Birmingham arts organisations hit by council spending cuts

Repertory theatre and symphony orchestra among those to receive less local authority funding than any regional equivalents

Arts organisations in Birmingham have been hit with further council spending cuts that mean the city’s theatre and orchestra will get less local authority funding than any of their regional equivalents.

On Thursday, Birmingham Rep, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Midlands Arts Centre were among organisations told they would receive heavy cuts to funding.

The cuts are not out of the blue and organisations had been braced for the news. But it is the scale and, they said, lack of time to implement them that is striking.

The Rep found out its city council funding is to decrease by a proposed 62% in the next financial year, beginning on 1 April. That is a reduction of £325,000, down to £200,000, for what is one of the UK’s biggest regional producing theatres.

In a statement the theatre said the new figure was “an investment lower than that received by any other comparable theatre in the UK”. When added to previous cuts, the theatre is being asked to operate with £900,000 less per year than it did in 2010.

The theatre said it had grown its earned income by 54% since 2010. The Rep’s executive director, Stuart Rogers, said: “The Rep has worked hard to absorb the ongoing cuts with great success. However, there is a limit to what we can do. A cut of this magnitude means that Birmingham city council is now giving the Rep less than we have to spend on the basic overheads and upkeep of the theatre – a building that is owned by the city council.”

At the CBSO, the council is proposing a cut of 25%, which equates to £228,000. In a statement the orchestra said: “Coming on top of the £1.47m real-terms public funding cuts which the orchestra has already absorbed since 2010, it means the CBSO’s public funding will drop below that currently received by any other regional symphony orchestra in the country, with its Birmingham city council grant falling to levels last seen in the 1980s.”

The CBSO chair, Bridget Blow, said the orchestra was “concerned and disappointed” that the council was cutting arts and culture funding “so much faster than local authorities in other major cities”.

She added: “There is global excitement about the CBSO’s future with one of the world’s most exciting young conductors, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, at the helm – but this latest cut will require us to work harder than ever to maintain the world-class concerts, and learning and engagement activities which the people of Birmingham have come to expect.”

The cuts go wider than the city’s main theatre and orchestra, with Birmingham council’s cabinet this week understood to have agreed an overall 34% cut in its culture budget.

Arts organisations in the city have been working together in the past year to establish Culture Central, a new development organisation and collective voice for culture in Birmingham. It published a culture investment inquiry in the summer that put forward new ideas around collaboration, new business models and new approaches to public investment.

Its director, Gary Topp, said they had hoped for more time. The new cuts were “uneven” and organisations were being given the news when they only had three months to implement them. “We’ve been calling for a more informed, a more collegiate, and a more innovative dialogue with the city council,” he said.

“The solution to this is a really powerful relationship between the sector and the city council which does not look like an old fashioned grant regime. Everyone knew the cuts were coming. It is the way they have been implemented and the lack of a really strong collaborative dialogue to mitigate them that is the challenge and the opportunity.”

Birmingham city council is having to make huge cuts. In an interview with the Guardian this week, its chief executive, Mark Rogers, warned of catastrophic consequences as cuts for services to vulnerable people were cut.

Ian Ward, deputy leader of Birmingham city council, said difficult decisions were having to be taken. “Like most local authorities, Birmingham faces unprecedented cuts from central government and as a result we must make savings of £180m over the next few years – on top of around £590m cuts we have had to make since 2010,” he said.

“We value the important role the arts and cultural sector play in the city, and while we have had to reduce our funding further, we are still investing more than £3.2m into Birmingham’s cultural offer, including open-access schemes which support smaller cultural organisations.”

Local authority cuts to the arts is one of the most urgent issues in the sector. The Birmingham cuts come in the same week that a group of MPs released a report saying the proportion of Arts Council England money spent in London, as opposed to the regions, was still too high.


Mark Brown Arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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