Letters: Arts facilities vital for vibrant cities

Letters: Quite apart from enriching our lives, the arts attract economic activity. The obvious example in the north-east is Northern Sinfonia

Newcastle city council has a proud tradition of investing in the arts, contributing to the cultural renaissance of the region, making the city an attractive place to live and visit, and creating economic development. Ten years ago the council set up an arts trust using the part sale of Newcastle airport to provide funding for all the major cultural facilities in the city. This brought in funding to the tune of £75m, which enabled organisations to build new facilities and develop revenue streams.

Despite government cuts, it is a false choice to suggest 100% cuts in arts funding are needed to protect socially needy services (Report, 30 January). Cultural facilities are not a luxury but a necessity for a vibrant city. We need proportionate cuts in cultural facilities, which will involve the closure of some libraries, swimming pools and a reduction in arts grants – as in other cities – but will allow arts organisations to engage in constructive discussions with the council and plan for phased reductions that do not threaten their financial viability or cut off the funding from national arts organisations.
Tony Flynn
Labour leader of Newcastle council 1994-2004

• Newcastle city council stands accused by the arts lobby of pulling a political stunt and falsifying the figures as it prepares its budget. Neither charge is justified. The figures demonstrating the scale of cuts needed by 2015-16 to balance the books are based on steeply falling government grant and the rising cost of and demand for services, especially in the fields of child and adult social care. They have not been dreamed up by council leader Nick Forbes but produced by the city's respected treasurer, Paul Woods. In my 45 years as a councillor I've never known a treasurer so exercised by a local government finance settlement and the potential cumulative impact on the council's finances and on its capacity to meet the needs of our community.

The council is sensibly taking a three-year view within which not only will the robustness of the treasurer's estimates be reviewed, not least by its independently chaired audit committee, but adjustments could be made to phased cuts should this become possible. All Labour councillors are agonising over the scale of cuts, unprecedented even by the standards of the Thatcher years, as we see not only cuts to the arts, but to play and youth provision, highway and parks maintenance, and much else. In a city which hasn't had a Tory councillor since 1996, the notion this is a political stunt to embarrass the government is fanciful.
Jeremy Beecham
Lab, House of Lords, Leader of Newcastle city council 1977-94

• We could learn from Germany, where the culture budget will rise by 8% as the country's federal budget is decreased by 3.1%. According to German culture minister Bernd Neumann, arts spending is not seen as a subsidy, but as "an essential investment in the future of our society".

A walk along the Tyne today is an exhilarating experience, offering one of the most exciting townscapes in Europe: a renewal stemming from investment in the arts. The view is strikingly different from the gloom of the print of Newcastle from the 80s I have on my wall.

Quite apart from enriching our lives, the arts attract economic activity. The obvious example in the north-east is Northern Sinfonia, founded by my late husband, Michael Hall, in 1958. From the deprivations of post-war poverty, the orchestra has been a beacon of revitalisation, culminating in the Sage, a wonderful cultural centre attracting worldwide artists and audiences.

Northern Sinfonia has never been a luxury for the middle classes but a fully participative community organisation involving educational activity, outreach projects and a youth orchestra. Think again, Newcastle. Your city needs the arts and all the benefits that flow from them.
Brenda Hall

• In Gateshead, on top of 1,500 jobs that have already gone, five libraries are under threat of 100% reduction in professional staff (the council is desperately trying to recruit volunteers to take over) and is trying to palm off its mobile library service to a charity. All the councils in the north-east need to stick their heads above the parapet and fight back.
Dave Shepherdson
Newcastle upon Tyne

• This article was amended on 4 February 2013. In the original, the letter from Dave Shepherdson was misattributed to Anne Corradine.

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