Newcastle venues at risk from cuts ‘madness’, warns Theatre Royal chief

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Theatre Royal Newcastle chief executive Philip Bernays has warned that a planned 100% cut to its local council funding will have a knock-on effect on the kind of work it programmes.

Newcastle City Council has published plans to completely remove funding to all arts organisations in the city, including Northern Stage, Newcastle Theatre Royal and Live Theatre, by 2016. The Theatre Royal is set to lose the most funding – £600,000, which is all the public funding it receives.

Bernays told The Stage: “It’s 25 years of investment thrown away overnight. It’s just complete madness. The arts are absolutely central to making Newcastle the thriving place that it is. Everyone across the country recognises that.

“Equally, it just shows how desperate the council is in terms of the levels of cuts it is having to make and the massive inequality in terms of the local authority settlements across the country – the north is far worse hit than the south. We understand that the council is between a rock and a hard place, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t madness to throw away this investment.”

“We’re going to have to look at the programme,” he added. “We’re going to have to generate more income for ourselves. I’ve been flagging this up with [external] producers. It’s a very fragile economy, the world of touring theatre, but it is going to have to evolve a bit. It’s not going to be just us, I’m sure this will be happening across the country.”

Newcastle City Council has put forward the proposals as part of a bid to save £90 million from its budget.

It is planning to completely remove funding from all external cultural services, warning that some organisations may not survive the cuts.

In its proposals, the council says: “The city benefits from vibrant and popular cultural institutions, 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, with some institutions – including the Theatre Royal and Great North Museum – needing to secure their future without council resources by 2016.

“Newcastle and Gateshead councils will also scale back their joint investment delivered through the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, and each of the five Tyne and Wear councils will need to seek savings in their grants to the archives and museums service. We would be able to retain a programme of outreach services, delivered jointly with partners, supporting art development in communities with the greatest need.”

It warns that two visual arts organisations – the Globe Gallery and ISIS Arts – are likely to close as a result of the cuts, but says the “fortunes of the larger organisations are more dependant on the ability of the arts council to continue to provide support, which is by no means certain, than on our funding, but the loss of resources will weaken all the organisations.”

It adds: “Some may close or merge. The Theatre Royal and Seven Stories will be particularly vulnerable.”

The city council’s proposals have been put out to public consultation, running until February. A draft budget will then be presented to the local authority’s full council on March 6, 2013.