Westminster cuts arts funding by 100%

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Westminster City Council has confirmed that it will cut all arts funding in the London borough by 2014/15.

Soho Theatre and English National Ballet are among the groups set to lose funding under the plans, which will see the £350,000 the council currently spends on ‘commissioned community arts projects’ reduced to £192,00 in 2013/14 and cut completely in 2014/15.

Soho Theatre’s young people’s programmes, English National Ballet’s older people’s schemes and community and youth arts services from Paddington Arts, Dream Arts and Streetwise Opera will all be affected, along with around ten other initiatives led by arts groups.

Melvyn Caplan, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for finance and customer services, said: “In an ideal world we would continue commissioning our community arts projects, but the reality of the financial picture for councils means that tough decisions are unavoidable.

“We are literally choosing between arts projects and keeping a library open, or retaining gangs workers on our estates, or running our meals on wheels service. There is no easy answer for the savings that are required, but we have chosen to protect services that are most vital to the vulnerable in our society.

“Those criticising the proposal need to offer realistic alternatives as to which public services they feel should be reduced in place of arts projects – because the fact is we must save £100 million over the next four years and maintaining the status quo is not an option.”

The cuts were confirmed at a council meeting yesterday, March 6. A council spokesman stressed that the council would “actively support all of the local arts projects to find alternative sources of funding from 2014/15 onwards” and that arts organisations were still eligible to apply for funding under the council’s wards budgets programme, whereby each ward in Westminster is allocated £46,000 every year and councillors in those wards then decide how the money should be spent.

The decision to axe 100% of funding in Westminster, follows a similar 100% cut by Somerset County Council, while plans to axe arts funding completely in Newcastle were reduced to 50% cuts, following local protests.

Westminster’s proposals to completely cut arts funding in the borough were opposed by a petition signed by performers including Arlene Phillips and Alistair McGowan.