Harriet Harman halts plans to slash Newcastle arts budget by 100%

Deputy Labour leader steps in after Newcastle council's draft budget proposed a total funding cut to city's arts organisations

Harriet Harman, the shadow culture secretary and deputy Labour leader, has intervened in the arts funding crisis in Newcastle to prevent the Labour council from cutting their culture and arts budget by 100%.

The council's draft budget proposed a total funding cut to all the city's arts organisations, including Live Theatre, Northern Stage and the Theatre Royal. It also proposed cutting its grants to museums by 50% and to libraries by 60%.

Harman said: "The reality is there is not going to be a 100% cut to the arts in Newcastle. Across the board, whether it comes to capital funding or revenue funding they will be supporting the arts." She added: "I can't give you the nitty-gritty: it's a bleaker picture than it has been – that's inevitable because of what the government's doing. But they will not be cutting 100%." She confirmed she had spoken to the leader of Newcastle council, Nick Forbes.

A spokesman for Newcastle council declined to comment, saying the budget papers for the city would be published on Friday afternoon.

Lee Hall, the Newcastle-born playwright and author of Billy Elliot and The Pitmen Painters, said: "I am reserving my judgment. The cut the council is facing has been used to justify draconian attacks on the arts and libraries yet I am still waiting for basic answers to questions on their budget."

Though the cuts represented a relatively small proportion of the affected arts organisations' budgets – up to about 15% – it was feared that even small amounts, on top of cuts from Arts Council England and in an economic downturn, could endanger them. There were also fears that it would set a dangerous precedent for other councils.

Forbes had argued the total cut to arts organisations was necessary because of a vastly reduced grant to the council from the government, with a funding settlement he said was unfairly weighted against councils in the north.

The draft budget pointed to a reduction in grants of £39.3m, meaning that, according to the document, "by 2016, we will need to make £90m in cuts – more than a third of our budget", to take into account factors such as rising pressure on social care and inflation.

Forbes told the Guardian last month that because of these cuts "by 2018 the council won't have the money to provide the statutory services it is legally obliged to" and "there won't be flexible revenue grant available [to the arts] in future".

However, pressure from Harman and a vocal campaign of resistance to the cuts appear to have changed the council's approach.

Arts organisations in the city ran a campaign with the motto "Not 100%", encouraging their audiences to write to the council and protest against the cuts. And prominent figures spearheaded by Hall also challenged the plans with an open letter signed by artists from the north-east including Sting, Bryan Ferry and Pat Barker.


Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

The GuardianTramp

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