News Tuesday, February 16th

Council cuts 'crucial' grant - arts groups count the cost

Arts providers across the county are counting the cost of cuts to crucial grants ahead of Hereford’s bid to be Britain’s 2021 City of Culture.

Herefordshire Council has effectively ended its scheme of arts commissioning grants – a move it wanted to make two years ago only to be forced into a compromise.


Conservatives fail to support local arts and culture in Herefordshire:A proposal to reinstate Herefordshire Council's ...

Posted by Ledbury Poetry Festival on Thursday, February 11, 2016

Opposition members attempted to force a compromise again when full council met to set the 2016/17 budget.

But this move to maintain the £60,000 fund - on the pitch that it cost taxpayers as little as 30p per person to secure some £600,000 in external funding for arts groups – fell by just eight votes.

Up against a combined opposition, the council’s ruling Tory group opted instead to invest the sum in assisting museum, archive and library services.

On the day, the council heard that there was “no point”  to it investing in building projects to house cultural events and then not providing the seed funding to enable such events to take place.

The council calls the end of the grants a “hard choice”.

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Those organisations affected - all highly successful contributors to the county’s cultural scene – say they’ve been left with little choice.

A number of the organisations which received the  funding are so-called National Portfolio Organisations whose funding from Arts Council England is reliant on support from the local authority.

Withdrawal of the funding would put their status, their ability to deliver their programmes, and their overall funding at risk.

In 2013/14, when the loss of the grants  was initially being considered, figures cited showed the extent to which the council’s grants were used by recipients as match funding for further finance.

The £58,250 total funding in 2013-14 was used to lever in an overall total of £586,073 to support the activity programme of the eleven organisations - 2 Faced Dance Company, Arts Alive & Flicks in the Sticks, Borderlines Film Festival, Dancefest, Echo (About Face Theatre), Feral Productions, The Fetch Theatre, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Meadow Arts, The Music Pool, and The Rural Media Company.

Paul Graham, chair of Arts Alive and Flicks in the Sticks, was among the first to speak out warning  of “few if any” options available to bring live performance and film to rural parishes.

Arts Alive & Flicks in the Sticks was receiving some £12,000 from the scheme to help put on around 60 professional live events a year in 30 different villages and towns and 330 cinema screenings a year to over 30 rural venues – in the main isolated parts of the county that would otherwise be starved of performing arts and film.

Volunteering is a huge part of Arts Alive work, working with hundreds of local people, meeting with them and other promoters to share ideas, organise training sessions, and provide support.

Paul estimates that such events generated over 6,000 volunteer hours by local promoters every year.

“We know from the hugely positive feedback we get from our audiences, that the service we provide helps to glue communities together at a time when the loss of rural facilities like pubs, post offices, public transport causes them to feel threatened and forgotten,” said Paul. 

“We of course recognise that local authorities are under enormous pressure at the moment.  However, Herefordshire Council funding, coupled with support from the Arts Council, has historically made up a very substantial part of our income: without it there are few if any options available to us to fill that gap and enable us to keep bringing live performance and film to rural Herefordshire,” he said.

Ledbury Poetry Festival went on-line to accuse the council’s ruling Tory group of being “not prepared to recognise” the benefits of the arts commissioning grant.

As posted, the statement said the amendment to re-instate the grants was based on the organisations involved delivering “exceptional” economic and well-being benefits.

The festival - which received £3,000 and can be expected to draw 5,000 visitors and 1,000 participants – aligned itself to the likes of Borderlines, Arts Alive, Rural Media Music Pool and Feral Productions – in signing a letter supporting the scheme as an investment in the local economy and not a “grant”.

In a statement to Herefordshire Live, Herefordshire Council said that the withdrawal of the grants was agreed as part of the council’s medium term financial strategy to focus council resources on its priorities, including the safeguarding of  children and vulnerable adults.

The statement said: “The arts grants were last awarded in 2014-15 – to 11 organisations of funding between £9,600 to £750. A full consultation process was carried out with the arts organisations 12 months prior to that to enable them to assess how they were to address their sustainability following the withdrawal of the grants.

“A decision at the recent full council meeting was to allocate £60,000 investment to help museums, archives and library services to be more financially self-sufficient in response to the public consultation that show significant support for retaining libraries in the county.”

At that meeting on Friday, February 5, the opposition group It’s Our County (IOC) proposed an amendment that saw the council shift £60,000 from its energy cost budget to support cultural services and help lever related match-funding.

The Conservative group countered with an amendment of its own that had the shift being made to support library, museum and heritage services.

The amendments will be debated following the proposing and seconding of the Cabinet’s budget proposals and will be voted on in turn. If approved the amended budget will be the substantive budget council then vote on.

Moving the IOC amendment, Cllr Liz Harvey said savings generated from the a fall in the council’s own energy bills could provide “pump-primed”  project support funding towards Hereford’s 2021 UK City of Culture bid.

Cllr Harvey said: “Five years ago the council was spending almost £450 per head of population each year on supporting tourism to the county.

“Many local businesses depend on the visitor economy and the money brought in each year by tourists is in excess of £500 million.

“Other cities bidding for City of Culture have made sure local arts projects keep their funding: it’s disappointing our council can’t see the worth of its investment or back its words of support with action.

“This proposal equates to less than 30p per person - but it would enable arts groups to secure more than £600,000 in external funding from other sources.”

The amendment was seconded by the Greens for whom Cllr Jenny Bartlett said: “ Arts projects attract visitors to Herefordshire. Our creative industries have a track record of securing significant outside funding – but they depend on local authority support as a vote of confidence in their projects, for this to happen.

“There’s no point this administration investing in building projects to house cultural events and then not providing the seed funding to enable these events to take place.”

The Conservative group countered that without a commitment to provide longer term support to these projects - a commitment group members believed could not realistically be made - there was no purpose served in even starting such an initiative.

All Conservative councillors present voted against the amendment which was defeated by 21 votes to 29.

In 2014/15 an IOC amendment at budget-setting succeeded in buying time for the grants.

Then, IOC leader Cllr Anthony Powers proposed re-prioritising the transport modelling work on the further sections of Hereford’s outer relief road project – a one-off saving of £58,000 to re-instate cover for arts commissioning.

Unanimous cross group support was secured with members recognising the service art groups offered to rural communities.

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