Newcastle MPs try to find way to mitigate art cuts

CITY MPs have stepped in to help find “a way through for arts venues and libraries” after warning of lasting damage to Newcastle’s cultural reputation.

CITY MPs have stepped in to help find “a way through for arts venues and libraries” after warning of lasting damage to Newcastle’s cultural reputation.

The call from MPs Nick Brown, Chi Onwurah and Catherine McKinnell comes as Ed Miliband’s arts spokesman arrives in Newcastle today for talks with cash-hit culture groups.

The three Labour MPs last night issued a joint statement in which they first blamed the Government for the “unfair” funding cuts passed on to the city, before calling for voters across Newcastle to have their say.

Shadow culture minister Dan Jarvis will meet with under-threat arts groups after accepting an invitation from Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes.

The meeting comes after a high-profile campaign against cuts to arts and libraries, with Newcastle seeking to end subsidies to several prominent venues by 2016.

While such a move would only axe at most 14% of the venues’ funding, the cuts would further jeopardise other income, including grants from the Arts Council.

The Theatre Royal in Newcastle would be one of the worst affected, with £500,000 a year slashed from its budget.

Last night there were signs that talks between arts groups and the council were edging towards resolution, with other funding methods under consideration.

In a statement released yesterday the three MPs said: “If the Government’s cuts were distributed fairly across the country the council would not be forced to cut local services so drastically.

“None of us want to see essential services being lost and our city’s cultural reputation damaged. We want to work with all residents to make sure the council’s budget consultation is meaningful and that everyone who feels strongly about this has the chance to make their views heard.

“By engaging constructively with the council on the details of the proposals we must all work together to find a way through for arts venues and libraries, as well as for other essential public services.”

Council leader Nick Forbes said he was grateful Mr Jarvis had accepted an invitation to “see first-hand the effect of Government cuts on the arts sector.”

He added: “We are in talks with arts groups over a whole range of moves to support them, from a ‘City Deal’ for arts to ways to help them link their activities to council work with the vulnerable or other ways we can help with costs.”

He said his council was among the first to set out fully the three-year impact of cuts, a move which was likely to see other major cities approach the local authority for advice when they too have to look at arts budgets.

That experience will come following an extensive consultation which both councillors and MPs have urged residents to take part in.

Playwright Lee Hall has lobbied Ed Miliband for his involvement in the cuts saga, questioning how it fits in with the Labour leader’s national position.

Mr Hall told The Journal: “I am very interested to see what his visit brings.

“Forbes’s position on libraries is directly contrary to the published Labour statements and Newcastle Council’s position on the arts seems to be totally at odds with every Labour council and the public position of Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman.”

Mr Jarvis has given Mr Forbes strong support, saying the position forced on to the council was deeply worrying.

He added: “The Government simply don’t understand the impact that their decisions on funding are having on services and the local people in Newcastle who use and rely upon them.”

None of us want to see essential services being lost and our city’s cultural reputation damaged

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