Talks over council's theatre funding

By Danielle NuttallNEGOTIATIONS between a theatre and council bosses will go ahead to decide the way it will receive financial help for a multi-million-pound refit.

By Danielle Nuttall

NEGOTIATIONS between a theatre and council bosses will go ahead to decide the way it will receive financial help for a multi-million-pound refit.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council agreed last night for negotiations to begin on a set of options that involve handing the Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds a potential £1.5million grant for its restoration project.

The council has outlined four options, including loaning the cash at a cheap rate, which would provide the theatre with the money, with officials saying none would adversely affect Council Tax bills.

Speaking after last night's meeting, Andrew Varley, the council's portfolio holder for arts and culture, said: “A range of financial options were discussed by the cabinet to try to help the Theatre Royal achieve its ambition without putting any additional burden on the Council Tax payer.

“Officers will now negotiate with the theatre based on various options. The council gives an incredible amount of support to the theatre and we have a responsibility to continue this.

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“But this has to be balanced with our ultimate responsibility to the Council Tax payer.”

Earlier this week, Independent borough councillor David Nettleton accused his own authority of “insulting its electors' intelligence”, claiming agreeing to give the cash to the theatre would result in “inflation-busting” Council Tax rises.

He also suggested the money needed towards the playhouse's £6.4m refit should be collected from the venue's 77,000 patrons, rather than relying on people who rarely visited the Georgian building.

Mr Nettleton, who represents the Risbygate ward, said: “I believe the borough council's claim that it can give away money to anyone, let alone £1.5m to the Theatre Royal, without it impacting on the Council Tax, is false. It is an insult to the intelligence of the electors.

“The idea of a council acting as a community bank, offering loans at a discounted interest rate, clearly disadvantages the shareholders, which is basically what local taxpayers are. I didn't know that I had been elected to a firm of moneylenders.

“A local authority should be seeking to use its reserves to the benefit of those in greatest need. If this massive grant is approved, the borough council's tax rise will be inflation-busting.”

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