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MPs unite behind campaign to save ENO

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
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MPs have agreed to take a campaign to save English National Opera as a full-time company to culture secretary John Whittingdale.

The move comes as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also threw his weight behind the campaign to save the company.

Chorus members are preparing to strike later this month in response to the proposed cuts put forward by ENO management, which would see singers’ contracts reduced by 25%.

This week they made their case in Westminster, addressing the Performers’ Alliance All-Party Parliamentary Group – made up of MPs and peers – and setting out their case for maintaining a full-time chorus.

Their plea to the committee followed a joint meeting between Equity, the Musicians’ Union and BECTU held last week in response to the proposed cuts. At this meeting, the unions passed a motion that called on the committee to use their connections to take the campaign to culture secretary John Whittingdale and Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley.

Addressing the committee, one chorus member, who did not wish be named, said: “Of course, on a personal level, individually the cuts to our income will be devastating – many will not be able to afford to stay in the job, and may even leave the profession, as the number of chorus jobs in this country is extremely limited.

“But what’s also at stake is the future of our entire company. By choosing to do less operas and dismantling the creative core, it will only be a matter of time before the company loses its prestige and starts on a downward spiral to extinction.”

The performers’ alliance group agreed to call on Whittingdale and Henley to publicly back maintaining ENO as a full-time opera company.

Corbyn, meanwhile, put his name to the campaign and signed a letter, addressed to ENO chairman Harry Brunjes, which calls on the company’s management to reconsider its plans to cut the chorus.

Equity assistant general secretary Martin Brown said he was “delighted” that Corbyn had supported the campaign, adding: “He was joined today by members of the Performers’ Alliance Parliamentary Group, whose chair Alison McGovern is writing to both John Whittingdale and Darren Henley, calling on them to publicly support a negotiated settlement to this dispute.”

Chorus members are due to strike on March 18 during a performance of Philip Glass’ Akhnaten.

Last week, ENO chief executive Cressida Pollock issued an update on the situation at the company. She said a 30% cut from ACE meant the company had to save £5 million every year.

She added that rather than programming autumn, spring and summer seasons, the company is proposing 10 operas in the London Coliseum in two sub-seasons, with a programme of work to take place outside the Coliseum – mainly during the summer – by 2019/20.

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