Somerset council threatens to axe arts funding

Natalie Woolman
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Somerset County Council has become the first local authority to announce that it is considering axing all of its arts funding following the Comprehensive Spending Review, as councils across the country prepare for their budgets to be slashed.

As part of the CSR, it was announced that councils would face an average cut of 7.25% to their grants in each of the next four years. Cultural services provided by local authorities are not “protected” and therefore vulnerable.

Cabinet members of Somerset County Council are due to meet next Monday (November 1) to discuss a budget proposal to axe all of its arts funding. The council supports ten organisations, including the Brewhouse Theatre. The decision is due to be ratified in a full council meeting on November 10.

A council report states that the change could be implemented in the 2011/12 financial year and that “the proposal is to use the remaining 2010/11 budget to support a disinvestment strategy for the KSOs [key strategic organisations]“.

Meanwhile, members of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities are being asked to approve a review of its arts funding in a meeting on October 29. It currently supports the Octagon Theatre in Bolton, among other organisations.

Cultural leaders have expressed their concern about the potential impact of cuts to local authority budgets, as councils are reportedly the second biggest funders of the arts in England after Arts Council England.

National Campaign for the Arts director Louise de Winter said: “Arts organisations will have to take into consideration the impact of the higher level of cuts to local authority budgets of 28%.

“As non-statutory services, they will be affected by the squeeze felt by local authorities as they simultaneously have their budgets slashed and are prevented from raising extra revenue through the council tax. We are concerned that this impact will fall greatest on the smaller organisations, particularly in the regions and rural areas.”

Speaking to The Stage earlier this month, National Association of Local Government Arts Officers chair Lorna Brown stressed that the cuts would differ from place to place, but she expected that “smaller, rural districts will be the ones that are more at risk”.

The Stage understands that the Department of Communities and Local Government plans to tell councils what their settlements will be in early December. The authorities will then set their budgets before the end of the current financial year.

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The Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London. Photo: Noel Foster