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Labour's stealth threat to culture in Newcastle

November 12, 2018 10:02 AM

CivicThe Liberal Democrats leader of the Opposition has turned the spotlight on the Labour leadership's attempt to hide plans to end funding for cultural organisations in the city, revealed by the publication of Newcastle City Council's budget consultation for 2019-20 today,

The council's budget's list of service reduction proposals do not include the apparent deletion of the council's contribution to the Culture Investment Fund, which over the past three years has provided important grant funding to the running costs of important local cultural organisations including Seven Stories, Tyneside Cinema, Northern Stage, and Live Theatre. The Fund was established in 2015 with £600,000 of funding from the city council, but it is understood that no additional funding has been received from other sources.

Although the Fund seems to be continuing and offering small grants of up to £10,000 in 2019, we believe that no additional funding has been made available and that the Fund is therefore effectively winding down and using up the last remnants of the money from the initial £600,000 of council funding.

The only mention of culture funding in the Budget Plan gives a misleading impression that "we continue to invest in culture through the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund" when the truth is that the council "can no longer provide financial support".

The Lib Dem Opposition is challenging the council's Cabinet member for Resources, Cllr Veronica Dunn, and the council's Cabinet member for Leisure, Culture, and Public Health Cllr Kim McGuinness to come clean on this and make it clear that the council's financial contribution to the Culture Investment Fund will effectively cease. It is calling on them to set out how the council leadership intends to ensure the Fund has a sustainable future, and explain why despite high-profile calls from the council leader Cllr Nick Forbes, no alternative funding has been identified.

Leader of the Opposition Cllr Anita Lower said:

"When the Labour leadership of the city council announced proposals in 2012 to close libraries and stop its entire budget for culture, Newcastle received national criticism, including from prominent North East cultural figures. As a consequence, the council were shamed into restoring a Culture Investment Fund in 2015 with £600,000 of funding for a three year grants programme, most of which has now been allocated and spent.

There is no direct mention of this in the council's budget's list of service reductions, and we are alarmed that the council appears to be trying to sneak this cut through by stealth. It is stretching the truth to breaking point to for the Council's Budget Plan to state that they are continuing to invest in culture through the Culture Investment Fund, when this funding is no longer being provided. We can only presume that this is a cynical attempt to avoid the welter of criticism received last time it sought to end funding for culture in the city which became widely known as 'Doing A Newcastle'.

News in today's budget proposals that libraries are once again set to face significant reductions in funding and opening is unwelcome, but at least the council has made this clear to the public. The council put out numerous press releases trumpeting the launch of the Fund in 2015, when the leader was happy to take plaudits for his U-turn on culture funding, but they are keeping quiet now it is set to be cut. Labour simply cannot be trusted when it comes to protecting libraries and culture in Newcastle."

The ending of funding for the Culture Investment Fund is not specifically identified in the council's budget appendices setting out proposed service cuts. However, the Budget plan includes the following paragraph buried on page 23

Investing in culture

The cultural sector in the city continues to grow in value and reputation and is an important contributor to economic development, public health, quality of life and inclusion. Although we can no longer provide direct financial support, we continue to invest in culture through the Newcastle Culture Investment Fund and by facilitating low-cost borrowing for capital projects which enhance the cultural offer.
We will continue to work with the culture and tourism sectors over the coming year with the aim of:

• Enhancing their resilience and independence.
• Optimising their opportunities for growth and development.
• Ensuring cultural assets reflect, represent and enrich the lives of all residents and visitors.