Summit meeting held over Newcastle council’s arts cuts

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Arts leaders in Newcastle have had “constructive and productive discussions” with the leader of the local council about its proposed 100% funding cut to arts bodies across the city by 2016, according to shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis.

A meeting attended by Jarvis, leader of Newcastle City Council Nick Forbes and representatives from Arts Council England and Newcastle Cultural Partnership has “affirmed” the group’s commitment to finding “innovative solutions” in response to the proposals, said the shadow culture minister.

“None of us are under any illusion of the scale of the challenge before us, but it is vital that we protect the fantastic cultural institutions for which Newcastle is renowned,” said Jarvis.

He added: “All of us, including the local Labour MPs, affirmed our commitment to finding innovative solutions that work both for Newcastle and as a blueprint for other councils in Britain.”

Alison Clark-Jenkins, regional director for ACE, said: “This summit meeting was a significant step forward in developing a new model of joint funding of arts and culture in a city.

“What happens from here will support ACE in new and innovative funding partnerships. This will ensure that our investment works hard to maintain and secure the vibrancy of the cultural offer that makes Newcastle a living, working city.”

Forbes said the discussions demonstrated that the local authority was “not walking away from arts and culture” and that it was going to do “everything” it can to try to ensure the sector has a sustainable future in the city.

The meeting follows warnings from trade unions Equity and BECTU about the “dangerous” impact the proposed funding cuts would have on Newcastle’s cultural scene and the potential damage to industrial relations.

At a meeting convened by Equity with local MPs and representatives from Live Theatre, Northern Stage, Dance City and the Theatre Royal, members said they were concerned that the council had not conducted an impact assessment about the effects on the local community in terms of health and well-being.

They also said local performers would not be able to get the same opportunities to work, especially in locally produced theatre, if the cuts were to go ahead.

Louise McMullan, head of the general secretary’s department at Equity, who attended the meeting, said: “It is very dangerous for local authorities to be implementing 100% cuts. Equity is encouraging them to maintain their arts budget because it is an investment, it is something that contributes to the local economy and has spill-over effects.”

Prior to this, Noel McClean, BECTU’s national representative, had warned in an open letter to the leader of Newcastle City Council of the “catastrophic” effect the cuts would have if venues were forced to take artistic decisions based on making money, which would compromise the quality of productions.

McClean also said he was worried about the potential impact on industrial relations between venues and unions.

He told The Stage: “Our relations are very good with venues such as Theatre Royal, and there is a concern that if a venue were to try and balance its budget by reducing payments to employees or acting outside the agreement it has with us, then that will bring us into conflict.”

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said it needs to save £100 million – around a third of its current budget –  by 2016 and that tough choices have to made. He added that the funding the council provides accounts for around 2.5% of some of the affected venues’ turnover.

The council, ACE and affected venues including Theatre Royal, Northern Stage and Live Theatre have agreed on a joint statement of intent that says they are currently in “very constructive discussions” about “alternative funding models,” said the spokesman.