Apols, ENO, ENB and Westminster

Brian Attwood was editor of The Stage from 1994 to 2014.
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As with the sort of over-reliance on their Satnav that leads unhappy motorists to attempt to traverse a river in their cars, it doesn’t pay to take the predictive texting on one's laptop too much for granted.

I received an embarrassing reminder of this fact after writing a piece in this week’s issue of the paper. An intended reference to ENB was rendered ENO in a piece about Westminster council’s proposals to axe its arts spending.

So my sincere apologies all round: to ENO, which isn’t affected either way by the Westminster proposals; to ENB - which will be for better or worse; and to the local authority concerned.

My intended point, however, holds; that any flagship company producing what is easily misrepresented as ‘elitist’ art will struggle to secure recognition from hard-pressed local authorities as a funding priority.

Dance’s case is perhaps easier to promote than that of opera, though again, councils will tend to feel happier supporting more populist (and cheaper) forms such as street dance than ballet.

Westminster itself is in a difficult position, undoubtedly: the money it has to find in cuts over the next four years is immense and the arts budget, in relative terms, very small. As its spokesman reminded us, it is indeed difficult to protect culture spend in preference to meals on wheels.

Put in those terms, it seems to represent no choice. That said, OAP meals are unlikely to account for the £100 million in cuts that now have to be made. Dare we suggest there may be other items on the list less likely to take precedence?

Labour’s former minister Estelle Morris was – as one might expect from a former teacher – always one for stressing the social and educational value of the arts; perhaps a little too much, as she tended to make the sector sound as if it had no intrinsic value of its own.

Perhaps though, her approach needs a little rehabilitation in the case of Westminster’s hard-pressed arts clients. A substantial part of the money involved goes towards providing access to the disadvantaged, young and elderly. In short, it has a value akin to the very worthy meals on wheels service.

I fear however that it will struggle to hold its own in the face of the tsunami of cuts with which Westminster now must contend.