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Local cuts are ‘biggest threat in 2016’

David Brownlee, director of theatre consultancy firm BON Culture David Brownlee, director of theatre consultancy firm BON Culture
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Arts leaders have warned that cuts to local funding will be the biggest issue facing the theatre industry in 2016.

This comes after the government announced a total reduction to local authority grants of £6.1 billion, which will be implemented between now and 2019/20.

David Brownlee, director of theatre consultancy firm BON Culture, said pressures on council funding would mean the difficulties faced by regional theatre move “from a drama to a crisis”.

He added that mid and small-scale venues would be most at risk, especially those run directly by local authorities.

Earlier this month, Brownlee revealed how “savage” the cuts to local authority spending have already been.

Writing in The Stage, he revealed how local authority funding to leading arts organisations over the past five years has dropped from £36 million in 2009/10, to £16 million in 2014/15, a reduction of more than 50%.

Independent Theatre Council chief executive Charlotte Jones said that the chancellor George Osborne had issued a “stay of execution” for Arts Council England – which saw a budget cut of just 5% in real terms – but added that the industry must not be complacent and ignore “the real danger posed by the massive cuts to local authorities”.

Her sentiments were echoed by Howard Panter, co-founder of Ambassador Theatre Group, who told The Stage that pressures on the industry in 2016 would be felt most keenly outside London.

“Thank goodness the arts council is pretty much okay but the big problem is the way that local authorities are being cut. That’s the big pressure on regional theatre in the UK, and we will be involved in response to some of that,” Panter said.

Culture minister Ed Vaizey said the settlement for the arts, agreed as part of the spending review, would sustain funding for the sector, adding that 2016 would also see the bedding in of the theatre tax credit.

Despite this, shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher warned of the impact that “mounting” cuts to local authorities would have on theatres across the UK.

“Labour will do all it can to hold the government to account and ensure that theatres across the country can thrive and continue to entertain audiences,” Dugher added.

Some local authorities have already made cuts to their arts, with Somerset County Council cutting its entire arts budget in 2010.

More recently, arts organisations in Oxfordshire were warned they face cuts of more than £90,000 to their council funding, as the local authority grapples with making its own savings.

Birmingham arts organisations are also facing cuts, with Birmingham City Council agreeing to slash its culture budget by 25% – the city’s third major funding cut in five years.

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