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Campaigners hit out at ‘savage’ cuts to arts in the South West

Timothy West in King Lear at the Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Simon Annand Timothy West, who played the title role in King Lear at the Bristol Old Vic last year, described the cuts as "savage". Photo: Simon Annand
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Actors including Timothy West and Tony Robinson have hit out at “savage” cuts to arts budgets in the South West, with Equity labelling them “cultural vandalism”.

Bath and North East Somerset Council is proposing a 100% cut to grants it awards to arts organisations, while Bristol City Council has outlined a 40% cut to its arts budget, with £190,000 to be cut in 2018/19 and a further £190,000 cut in 2021.

News of the cuts follows figures released by Labour last year, which revealed that councils in the South West spent £14 million less on the arts in 2015/16 compared with 2010/11. The research claimed that local government spending on culture and heritage in England has dropped by £165 million since 2010.

West, who played King Lear at the Bristol Old Vic – a venue that currently receives money from Bristol City Council – lambasted the cuts as “unforgivable”.

“The cities of Bath and Bristol have been profoundly associated with producing world-class for theatre for well over two centuries. These proposed savage cuts to their arts funding are an unforgivable assault on the social and cultural life for which both cities are justly valued,” he said.

Robinson, who lives in the South West, described the cuts as “short sighted”.

“Our vibrant and internationally respected arts not only makes Bristol and Bath exciting places to live in but also encourage tens of thousands of people to visit our twin cities every year, and attract huge amounts of further investment. No one will win from this short-sighted strategy,” he said.

Bath and North East Somerset Council is proposing to axe its arts grants to save £433,000 by 2020, as it looks to plug a £37 million gap.

However, campaigners from Theatre Bath, a community organisation that aims to promote and champion theatre within the Bath and North East Somerset area, said the proposed cuts would be detrimental to arts in the region.

Founder Luke John Emmett told local paper the Bath Chronicle that the grants were vital to smaller organisations.

“This will have a detrimental effect in the city as they are a lifeline for smaller organisations,” he said.

Lynda Rooke, an actor and campaigner against the cuts to the South West, said the reductions would result in fewer locally made productions, meaning local people would have less opportunity to watch or work in theatre.

Equity deputy general secretary Stephen Spence described the cuts as “cultural vandalism”, claiming the “economic case for the arts cuts simply does not make sense”.

He reiterated that “every pound invested in the arts generates two to seven pounds in return”.

Bath and North East Somerset Council confirmed grants would be “wound down at the end of the financial year”.

It said that it would continue to commission more than £2 million worth of events and festivals in the city.

Bristol City Council, meanwhile, said it currently spends about £1 million on the arts and had been looking to cut this in half.

Following a public consultation, however, it said it would be reducing the amount by £380,000 in two stages.

Last year, culture minister Matt Hancock claimed that local councils were making “politically motivated decisions” to cut the arts. He said local authorities could make savings elsewhere.

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