Newcastle confirms it will not completely axe arts budget

Newcastle Theatre Royal. Photo: Sally Ann Norman
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Newcastle City Council has confirmed it has backed down on plans to completely cuts arts funding in the city.

The local authority had proposed to remove all £1.15 million that it currently invests in the arts, as part of wider proposals designed at saving £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, it has now confirmed that while it will reduce its support to around £600,000 per year, it will not completely axe all arts funding.

Newcastle published its draft budget today (February 15) following a period of consultation. Writing in the budget, the council said: "The most visible campaign against our budget proposals has come from opponents of our proposal to phase out council revenue funding for cultural institutions in the city, over three years: equivalent to 5-15% of the revenues of those institutions. We have maintained a strong and constructive dialogue with the leaders of Newcastle’s cultural institutions, and will support them to find additional sources of support, including by lobbying for a stronger regional focus in arts council funding, and in securing commercial and sponsorship income. Newcastle is not proposing to close down its cultural institutions and fully appreciates the importance of culture to our economy and society. But to protect services for the most vulnerable people, we need to find new ways of supporting cultural institutions and which does not rely on an ongoing revenue subsidy from the council.

"We therefore propose to initiate a new fund endowed with up to £0.6m of investment income from the council called the Newcastle Culture Fund, to encourage co-investment and financial contributions from people and organisations that have shown their support for Newcastle’s cultural and artistic development. The Arts Council have worked with us to develop this fund and it is designed to sit alongside their essential funding for arts and culture. We will also explore the option of a voluntary £1 supplement to ticket prices. We also welcome a commitment from the vice-chancellor of Newcastle University that additional savings generated from shared services between the university and council can be re-invested in the cultural life of the city."

Meanwhile, the council will also be creating a £6 million capital investment loan facility for cultural organisations, rising to £9 million if there is demand. It is also in early talks with Newcastle Theatre Royal over plans for the theatre to take over the management of Newcastle City Hall from the council.

Philip Bernays, chief executive of the Theatre Royal, explained: "This is in direct response to the recent budget cut proposals, as we believe that such a partnership can help replace some of the funding we will be losing and ensure the sustainability of both organisations. The City Hall, like the Theatre Royal, is a major part of the city's cultural heritage, with a programme not in competition to ours, and we believe we are a good fit for each other. There are a number of similar models across the country and we are confident with careful planning and consultation we can make this work.

“Conversations are currently taking place and proving very positive, although they are in the very early stages and much work is still required to bring this proposal to reality.”