A FRESH war of words has broken out over a letter sent to The Journal opposing council arts cuts and signed by 24 North East stars.
Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall, soap actress Jill Halfpenny and rock stars Sting and Brian Ferry said Newcastle City Council’s planned cut off to its arts budget was totally unnecessary and would destroy the city’s cultural life.
But in a letter to the Guardian newspaper yesterday, council leader Nick Forbes said the stars’ anger was misguided.
He said: “The cuts that we and other cities are forced to consider are a direct result of the Government’s austerity programme.”
He said he would do all he could to protect cultural life in the city but added: “What I cannot do – legally and morally – is divert even more resources from the priority services for vulnerable adults and children.”
Other commentators in the newspaper said the North East talent who put their names to the letter should make up for council cuts with private donations.
“The royalties from Police and Roxy Music’s considerable output could go a long way towards this,” one said.
Another wrote: “I presume arts organisations in my city can at least rely on any of the millionaires among the signatories who are still UK-domiciled for tax purposes donating their savings from the 5p-in-the-pound cut to the top rate of tax.”
But Philip Bernays, chief executive of Newcastle’s Theatre Royal, which stands to lose around £500,000 a year if cuts go through, told The Journal that stars should not be expected to donate their own money. He added: “We don’t live in an age of patronage, and we shouldn’t expect to be rely on private donations. The basic arts are rights.”
And while he welcomed the involvement of high-profile names in opposing the cuts, he agreed with Coun Forbes that anger should not be directed at the council.
“I think we have to remember that the council is in an almost impossible position.
“We are trying to talk to the council rather than berate them,” he said.
“But having that pressure from the big names raises the stakes. It makes people very aware.” Anthony Baker, artistic director of Dance City, which also faces seeing its council funding cut off, also agreed with Coun Forbes that the Government was to blame.
“We have to be very careful not to point the finger too much at the local authorities. It’s central government that we’re really dealing with here,” he said.
Rashida Davison of the Globe Gallery welcomed support from big names such as Mark Knopfler and Anthony Gormley, who signed the original letter, but said it was “ essential that opposition to cuts was backed up by ordinary individuals.
“It is up to all of us to work towards this goal,” she said.