Newcastle City Council has voted through proposals for a three-year budget which will see its funding for cultural organisations cease completely by 2016.
The council currently spends £1.52m on external cultural organisations, which include the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Live Theatre and Seven Stories (the National Centre for Children’s Books). Following a previously agreed 15% cut to the budget (£225k), further cuts of £678k and £617k will wipe it out completely.
High quality classical music will continue to be accessible to residents of the city thanks to The Sage Gateshead, which is on the south bank of the Tyne and receives funding from Arts Council England and Gateshead Council.
The council is dealing with cuts of £100m over three years in its budget from central government, cuts which council leader Nick Forbes said were ‘deeply unfair’.
‘The Local Government Association (LGA) has set out projections that show that, without a change of government policy, councils will very soon run out of money for anything other than statutory services,’ said Forbes.
Following a public consultation in which ‘the most visible campaign against’ proposals was made by opponents of the proposal to phase out funding for cultural institutions the council has voted to create a new fund of ‘up to £0.6m … to encourage co-investment and financial contributions from people and organisations that have shown their support for Newcastle’s cultural and artistic development.
‘The Arts Council have worked with us to develop this fund and it is designed to sit alongside their essential funding for arts and culture.’
ACE’s regional director in the North East, Alison Clark-Jenkins, wrote on 8 March that the £600,000 fund is to be ‘very much a guaranteed minimum figure.’
The move reflects what Sir Peter Bazalgette, ACE’s new chair, told CM recently: that he wanted to ‘reaffirm our desire to be in the partnership with local authorities, to partner with them to really invest in their arts and culture’.
Mr Forbes said the Newcastle Culture Fund would give celebrity anti-cuts campaigners the chance ‘to put their money where their mouth is’, reported the BBC.
The budget will also see the closure of 10 libraries (cutting the network to eight branches), the closure of the city swimming pool, reduced council intervention in the social housing market, less money to help those in housing and financial crisis, reduction of school improvement and Special Educational Needs travel budgets, reducing the number of children in social care, and scrapping the youth service entirely ‒ all among 85 distinct cuts identified by the council.
The council will also be ‘scaling back’ its direct cultural investment through the NewcastleGateshead initiative.
‘The city benefits from vibrant and popular cultural institutions,’ says the budget document, ‘but given the scale of government cuts, it will not be possible for us to play as significant a role in their funding in the future. We therefore propose to work with cultural institutions to manage a substantial reduction in their funding from the council.
‘We have never doubted the value of the cultural sector to the social and economic life of the city, but in the face of such significant budget reductions [we have] struggled to find a way to continue to fund the sector into the future. We appreciate that 100% reduction in our subsidy that we have proposed will have a negative impact on the sector if it cannot be replaced in other ways.’