Arts leaders welcome Newcastle 100% cuts u-turn

Newcastle Theatre Royal. Photo: Sally Ann Norman
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Arts leaders have welcomed Newcastle City Council’s decision to back down on plans for 100% cuts to arts funding in the city, claiming the result could set the tone for other local funding battles across the country.

Newcastle had proposed to remove all £1.15 million that it currently invests annually in the arts from 2016. This was a part of wider proposals designed to save £90 million, around a third of its budget, due to cuts to its own support from central government.

However, following widespread opposition to the proposals and a high-profile campaign in support of arts funding, the council has confirmed that, while it will reduce its support by around 50% to £600,000 per year, it will not completely axe all funding.

From 2016, the council will put £600,000 annually into an external fund to which arts will apply for support. Meanwhile, it will also be creating a £6 million capital investment loan facility for cultural organisations, rising to £9 million if there is demand.

There are also a number of other proposals at an early stage of discussion, including plans for the Theatre Royal to take over the management of music venue Newcastle City Hall from the council, and for Newcastle University to share services with the council and plough the savings into the cultural fund.

The plans have been broadly welcomed by leading figures in Newcastle’s arts sector. Newcastle Theatre Royal’s chief executive Philip Bernays told The Stage that while there were still details to be worked out about how the fund would be run, and it would still mean funding cuts for the Theatre Royal, the announcement marked an improvement on how the situation had looked previously.

He said: “The council are still withdrawing all direct subsidies, but the good news is they are setting up the Newcastle Cultural Fund, to which they will be guaranteeing £600,000 per year, but to which they are hoping others will also give.

“I think it’s a very good sign. In terms of the responses [to the council’s budget proposals], about 10% were about culture. So, there was clearly a very strong public feeling about the value that culture brings to Newcastle and the council have listened.”

Meanwhile, Alison Clark-Jenkins, Arts Council England’s regional director for the north-east, said she thought the compromise represented a good result “when you look at the proposals as a whole”.

She added: “It hasn’t been easy or straightforward and it has taken a lot of diplomacy by the arts council and a really good campaign by some of the arts organisations – the ‘not 100% campaign’. That measured campaign contributed a lot.

“From a national point of view, if the case for the arts can be made moderately but strongly in a place [like Newcastle], which is losing a vast amount of funding and has got all sorts of economic issues, then I think that sets the tone for everywhere else.”

Rachel Tackley, president of the Theatrical Management Association, which represents theatres across the UK, also highlighted the wider importance of the campaign in Newcastle.

She said: “Local government has been the unsung hero of arts funding in many places across the UK for many years. Councils who have been great supporters will be facing increasingly difficult decisions in setting their reduced budgets in 2013 and beyond. It is vital for theatres individually and collectively to demonstrate their enormous positive impact for local communities. What is even more important, as we have seen in Newcastle, is that local people make their voice heard about how they value local government investment and how much their theatre and cultural life matters to them.”