Town's arts bodies facing 10% cuts

ARTS organisations in Colchester look set to face a cut of 10% in the amount of subsidy they receive from the local council next year.

Roddy Ashworth

ARTS organisations in Colchester look set to face a cut of 10% in the amount of subsidy they receive from the local council next year.

But councillors hope to help the town's three biggest cultural institutions - Firstsite, the Mercury Theatre and the Colchester Arts Centre - to work together on ways to accommodate the shortfall.

In 2009-10, Colchester's Mercury Theatre received �298,000 in its core funding from Colchester Borough Council (CBC), with Firstsite receiving �200,000 and the Arts Centre receiving �81,000.

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This year the council agreed to freeze the level of grant funding for the organisations after initially signalling the possibility of a cut.

But with the town hall bracing itself for a reduction in its own central government grant in the year 2011-12, continuing to fund them at the current rate may not be viable, according to Paul Smith, the council's cabinet member for resources, diversity, culture and arts.

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The move could mean that Firstsite would receive a cut in subsidy shortly after the anticipated opening date of its new �25.5 million gallery early next year.

“In the context of the national situation the council is anticipating a reduction in central funding, and we have budgeted for 5%,” Mr Smith said.

“Some services, such as cleaning the streets and collecting rubbish, have to be provided by law, so we are not able to cut them.

“That means that for areas such as cultural organisations, which are funded by discretionary spending, there is less money available.

“It is hard to be specific, but given that over half our spending is on things we have to provide, I would predict that across the board you would be looking at about a 10% cut for the arts.”

Mr Smith said that the council, along with Essex County Council (ECC) and the Arts Council, was setting up a forum with Firstsite, the Mercury and the Arts Centre to see if ways could be found for the organisations to pool some resources and so save cash in the face of the expected cuts.

These could be in areas such as publicity or educational work, Mr Smith said.

The first meeting of the new forum, which will also involve the local museum service, is scheduled for the beginning of next month.

Yesterday, however, Jeremy Lucas, heritage, culture and arts cabinet member for ECC, which also funds the Mercury and Firstsite, said he felt it was too early to predict whether it would also have to cut grants.

“I would certainly hope it was not necessary, but at this stage I cannot guarantee or commit to anything.

“The budgets will depend on, among other things, the result of the General Election.

“We will be having our first serious look at funding for 2011-12 later in the year, probably in around June or July.

“I certainly wouldn't want the prospect of cuts as a starting position.”

Director of Colchester Arts Centre, Anthony Roberts, said: “Every year brings a new set of challenges, some artistic, some financial, some historical.

“We would hope to work with our partners, as we usually do, to meet these challenges and to bring the best of the arts to the people of Colchester.”

A spokesman for the Mercury Theatre said: “We are aware of the likely constraints in public spending in 2011-12 but we can't respond fully until we have more details on the possible outcomes.

“We will continue to work with the borough to ensure we deliver our artistic and community goals.”

Nobody from Firstsite was available for comment.

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