Crawley and West Sussex councils in theatre funding row

West Sussex County Council has been criticised for only supporting one theatre in the county.

The local authority has confirmed it has given £2.6m to Chichester Festival Theatre since 2001, and no support to any other theatre during that time.

Crawley borough councillor Brenda Smith said funding came from ratepayers across the county and so cash should also be distributed across the county.

West Sussex council said the Chichester theatre's funding was being reviewed.

Ms Smith said: "If public money is being put into local theatres across the county all from county money, then I would have hoped it would be equitably distributed across theatres that were supporting the arts throughout the county so that all ratepayers benefited."

She said Crawley Borough Council had supported theatres such as The Hawth, which had been extremely successful and very popular in the town, but the borough council was also feeling financial constraints.

The Hawth provided enormous benefits to the community and one of its strongest areas of activity was its community arts section for children and schools, she added.

'International renown'

West Sussex County Council said Chichester Festival Theatre brought immense economic benefits to the region.

It said the county council had worked with Chichester District Council and the Arts Council to avoid its possible closure which would have had an impact on a wide area of West Sussex.

The grant to Chichester Festival was originally approved because the internationally-renowned theatre's future was under severe threat, it added.

A county council statement said: "The Festival Theatre brings drama expertise to schools in West Sussex in the form of heavily subsidised creative partnerships which represent excellent value for money.

"Nearly 50 schools in West Sussex and South Hampshire benefit from youth theatre membership, while schools and youth groups have the opportunity to perform at the theatre. Other projects use drama to work in local care homes."

Chichester Festival Theatre has received £300,000 annually from the county council for six years, and the yearly grant was later reduced to £200,000.

The county council said the grant was reduced by a third in 2007/08, and would be subject to further review when the county council's budget was set for 2011/12.

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