Lancashire Sinfonietta, the professional chamber orchestra which was ensemble-in-residence at Lancaster University, has become the latest casualty of local authority budget cuts.
Founded in 1996, the orchestra had operated with significant support from Lancashire County Council. A statement released on 9 June announced the closure of the orchestra’s charitable entity, set up in 2012 in anticipation of reduced council support, and signalled the end of the orchestra’s diverse activities in the region.
The statement read: ‘The orchestra was created and funded with the support of Lancashire County but cuts to public spending have led to the reduction of its grant to a point where it was no longer sustainable.’
Funded by the council to the tune of £144,000 in 2012/13, the orchestra’s grant had been reduced to £28,591 for 2013/14. Lancashire councillor Marcus Johnstone told the BBC when that decision was taken that, ‘in the midst of a period of real austerity’, the council could not provide the orchestra ‘with money that simply doesn’t exist’.
The statement, released on 9 June, amounts to a final admission of defeat for the ensemble, whose chairman, Malcolm Brown, had said last year that funding concerns meant ‘it appears unlikely that we can sustain the work of the orchestra’.
Local authorities have come under particular pressure through the coalition government’s austerity programme, leading them to concentrate increasingly on funding statutory services (those which they are legally obliged to provide). Cultural organisations which have relied heavily on support from local government have therefore found themselves particularly vulnerable.
Brown said it was ‘a very sad time for the orchestra’, and pointed to the speed of budget cuts as a factor. ‘Had we been given more time by the county council we might have been able to plan for other ways of funding the orchestra.
‘As it is we have no choice but to close the orchestra. This will leave a big hole in the cultural and educational landscape of Lancashire.
‘In particular it will be a huge loss to the schools, families and children who are increasingly denied exposure to music by the erosion of government support for the arts.’
The orchestra was a partner in the Lancashire Music Education Hub and offered a comprehensive learning and participation programme.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society will take over responsibility for the orchestra’s Young Composer of the North West Competition, set up in 2005 but postponed in 2013/14.