Entertainment & Arts

Newcastle Council's 50% arts cuts confirmed

Clockwise from top left: Seven Stories, Theatre Royal, Live Theatre and Northern Stage
Image caption The affected venues include (clockwise from top left): Seven Stories, Theatre Royal, Live Theatre and Northern Stage

Newcastle City Council has agreed to stop its regular funding for theatres and other arts venues and launch a new cultural fund worth half the amount.

The council will scrap its £1.2m core arts grants as part of £100m savings.

Setting its budget on Wednesday, the council confirmed that a new £600,000 culture fund would be launched instead.

The council said the fund would provide security, although Arts Council England chairman Peter Bazalgette said the cut would still have a "serious" impact.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes has warned that the city is on the brink of the "abyss of austerity".

The council is also planning to shut a string of libraries, reduce funding for youth and children's services, cut the number of children entering care and get rid of 1,300 jobs.

Cultural venues that currently receive council funding include the Theatre Royal, Northern Stage, Live Theatre and Seven Stories, which recently won the right to be called the National Centre for Children's Books.

The plan to scrap their subsidies was met with an outcry from the city's arts community as well as well-known north-east names including singer Sting, Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and actor Kevin Whatley.

It also led to fears that other cities would follow Newcastle's example.

Mr Forbes said the Newcastle Culture Fund would give celebrities the chance "to put their money where their mouth is".

"This new approach not only provides that security, but means those who wish can also make a contribution," he said.

Peter Bazalgette said he recognised the pressures faced by the council, adding: "Of course, a 50% cut to the culture budget still means serious economic and social impact for Newcastle and beyond."

There is uncertainty over which venues will get money from the Culture Fund and how it will be distributed. Newcastle's cuts will be made over the next three years.

Elsewhere, Westminster City Council has confirmed a two-year plan to scrap its £350,000-per-year community arts budget, which is currently spent on projects at venues including Soho Theatre and the English National Ballet.

Most councils plan 12 months ahead. Here are the plans for the coming financial year for some of the other biggest cities in the UK:

  • Manchester City Council is planning to cut its culture grants and galleries budget by 10% for the coming year, saving a total of £390,000.
  • Leeds City Council's grants to more than 100 arts organisations including Opera North and the West Yorkshire Playhouse will remain roughly level at £2.5m per year.
  • Glasgow Life, which administers arts funding on behalf of Glasgow City Council, said its external arts grants would be cut by 10%, or £209,000. Its budget for council-run museums and other cultural venues is roughly level at £18m.
  • Sheffield City Council's arts budget is being cut by about 8%, or £320,000. That includes a £106,000 cut for Sheffield Theatres, which runs the Crucible and Lyceum, and £200,000 for Museums Sheffield, which runs the Graves art gallery and Millennium Gallery.
  • Bradford City Council is cutting £330,000, or 6.3%, from its culture and tourism budget in 2013/14.
  • Edinburgh City Council's funding to external arts venues and festivals remains unchanged at £5.2m.
  • In 2011, Liverpool City Council decided to cut funding to its arts organisations including the Everyman and Playhouse theatres, Tate Liverpool and Liverpool Philharmonic by 10% per year for three years.
  • At the end of 2011, Bristol City Council agreed to keep funding for 24 arts organisations including the Bristol Old Vic and Tobacco Factory level at £850,000 per year for three years.

Of other major cities, no overall figures exist for London's 32 boroughs. Birmingham City Council did not respond to a request for figures, but at the end of 2010 The Stage newspaper reported that the council was cutting its arts budget by £2m over the subsequent three years.

On Wednesday, The Stage reported that Belfast City Council is to increase its arts spending by 27% after agreeing a £4.1m three-year package.

Meanwhile, the Local Government Association (LGA) has published a report highlighting the role of culture in boosting the economy, saying cultural businesses contribute £28bn per year to the UK's finances.

LGA culture spokesperson Cllr Flick Rea said local authorities were not obliged to provide arts funding.

"We fear that by the end of 2020, there will be a very, very small amount of local government money to spend on anything outside the major services like looking after children and the elderly and collecting waste," she said.

"Discretionary services will be at risk, which is why this is the time now to start building partnerships and collaborations to see that those discretionary areas don't suffer in the long run."

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