2 Apr 2009

Blow to Stroud Arts

This evening I was at Stroud District Council's Performance and Audit Overview and Scrutiny committee meeting - just home from it - lots of issues discussed - I will get to arts, but first some of the other issues I raised this evening:

Photo: View of Ebley Mill from Randwick

- concerns about failures re housing performance eg Stroud is amongst worst performing councils nationally re vacant private homes sector, the number of vacant dwellings returned to use. average energy efficiency ratings and average time to complete non-urgent repairs. Some of the reasons given are understandable and as with all of this some of the targets and indicators themselves are a bit of nonsense.
- indeed nonsense is just how I described the performance indicators in the Audit Commissions report re recycling that shows we are one of the worst in the country - I've covered that before on this blog and again I applauded the Council for not going down route to collect green waste which has led to other councils artificially raising their recycling rates - however while they may be best in Glos I also noted they could be doing much better.
- the need for carbon audits if you really are going to look at value for money of schemes cutting carbon
- why the Waste Management Advisory Group, of which I am a 'reserve' member has not met yet decisions and discussions have been taking place re waste eg stopping Stanleys trial.
- welcoming in principle sharing audit stuff with neighbouring Councils

Other issues discussed included asking why more work was not done on Stanleys trial before - this is the food waste collection that won awards and was then cancelled - loosing community goodwill and more - yes the costs of running such a scheme were prohibitive across the DIstrict but surely those could have been recognised before the trial started? Plus it is largely due to the nonsense contract set up to collect our waste - a fault of the Government's moves to privatisation.....

Arts groups threatened with funding cuts

Hey but you can watch webcast in a day or so when it is uploaded onto District Council site and of course read mnutes but they take longer ...let me get to arts funding...an issue raised by Sarah Lunnon...

Arts organisations and others like the Stroud Valleys Project have been contacted by the District Council and effectively told that their funding will be reduced - many of the groups face year on year cuts. I have been meaning to write about this for ages as it is very bad news indeed.

Those arts groups facing cuts include Prema Arts Centre in Uley, the Wotton Arts Project, Stroud Valleys Artspace and more. Under The Edge and Stroud International Textile Festival are to be cut by half in 2010 and completely by 2012. Jo Bousfield, Chair of The SPACE in Stroud writes of the cuts in a letter to the press last month: "This will mean no SITE 09 and International Textile Festival and probably the closing down of Stroud's Performing Arts Centre (The SPACE) and Under The Edge Arts, both of which are run on a shoestring."

Stroud Valleys Arts Space will have to cut some of it's community stuff and become just studios for artists and Prema will also face losses. Here is a comment from Prema in the SNJ from a wee while ago: Director of Prema Gordon Scott said this would have a "devastating effect" on local art projects and could even spell closure for Prema. Prema, which has been running for the last 30 years, will see its grant of £10,000 drop to £5,000 next April and half again the year after, ultimately being cut by 2012. Mr Scott said: "This will make a massive difference to us, I think it could end in redundancies or worse. I understand that the council needs to make some savings, nobody wants their council tax to go up, I don’t want my council tax to go up. But they are cutting grants to some of the most vulnerable organisations. We cannot absorb these kinds of cuts. We already run on a skeletal staff, but I can see that we may have to make redundancies. We also employ around 200 local artists throughout the year and this would have to be cut down. A large part of Prema’s income comes from Arts Council England, however Mr Scott said the council expected funding to be a partnership and that if they see there is no local support they may cut their funding as well. I want to make clear that Prema is not about to close and won’t close in the next year or two, but I am concerned that these grant cuts could create a domino effect and we would be left without enough funding to continue. Then we would have to close."

I started my bit at the Scrutiny meeting making the point that the Telegraph once said "Stroud is to Art what Hay-on-Wye is to books" - and stressed huge concerns about the impact these cuts will have on the District. I did and still do acknowledge that the Council faces a very difficult future and discretionary spending will need to be considered fully but I wanted assurances that the knock-on effects that arts have on communities and the economy are taken into account fully - these sums are not just small fry they are tiny fry when compared to the money going on the canal. The benefits to arts are often not so tangible but are increasingly recognised - see my previous blog on this here. It is crucial that the benefits are properly considered if cuts will need to be made - for me this spending enriches our community beyond measure and I thank all those who have contributed...

As regular blog readers will know I have celebrated a fair number of the local arts exhibitions and events on this blog - it is one of the reasons that makes Stroud special - and as I said at the meeting one of the reasons that makes it a joy for me to live here - a privilege to be in such a vibrant creative community.

Jo Bousfield put it well in her letter: "The impact on the well-being of council taxpayers and the general economy of Stroud will be affected everywhere, with no audiences and participants using food outlets. There will be nowhere for youth theater/youth dance/young artists/musicians to go and do what they do. There will be no cinema clubs, no festivals, no live performance, no billowing pink flags on the pedestrian bridge this summer. I could go on a long time with the list of repercussions. But who cares? In a recession, everyone is so depressed no one wants to go and dance or sing or draw or write poems or have a laugh in a workshop or learn photography with other council taxpayers or watch a foreign film or go and look at exciting art. We will all just stay at home and watch telly- if we can afford the licence fee."

Hey it is late again and another busy day tomorrow so will stop now...in the meantime consider noting arts when you complete the 'Have Your Say' which arrived with Council Tax bills over the last month - this consultation is crucial and I will be doing another blog on it soon and about why it is so important to contribute your views - please go to the online survey now here!

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