UNIVERSITY bosses have offered hope that they could help stave off council cuts to cultural organisations on Tyneside.
Newcastle University vice-chancellor Prof Chris Brink has written to city council leader Nick Forbes expressing his alarm at the cuts which would see the local authority reduce all of its funding to 12 cultural organisations in the city.
Those cuts represent between 5% and 14% of the organisations’ funding, but there have been warnings that some will not survive and there have been widespread protests about the severity of the funding reduction.
In his letter Prof Brink suggests that the university and council look to work more closely together so that savings made from economies of scale can be made to alleviate the worst of the cuts.
He says: “We understand the drivers behind this proposal, in particular the stark fact of considerably reduced funding from central government.
“Nonetheless, I am sure we would all like to try to find a way forward for a continued vibrant presence of arts and culture. I believe all of us have a responsibility to see if we can make a contribution in this regard.
“In particular, in keeping with our role as a civic university, we have a strong relationship based on research and teaching with a number of the cultural venues and activities in the city, and we are naturally concerned about their future sustainability without continuation of a city council contribution to their funding.
“I would like to put to you, therefore, a proposal on what the university and the city council could do together.
“As you know, the university and the city council have had for some time now a discussion on the possibilities of making savings through shared services and joint procurement.
“This has already resulted in a number of small but significant successes. I would like to propose that we scale up this project, and that we agree that the savings made from any further joint arrangements be pledged jointly and on both sides towards mitigating some of the cuts.
“I believe that your proposed cuts are meant to be phased in over the next few years, and we could try to ramp up savings over the same period. This may not address the full scale of the problem, but it will be a start, and it may challenge others in the city to come up with equally constructive proposals.”
The university and the council have already experimented with some shared services – for example they jointly tendered their window cleaning contracts which is thought to have saved many thousands of pounds.
But the new proposals could see them working closely together in all types of areas, from building maintenance to student safety and more.
It could also see the two organisations teaming up to tender commercial services in order to bring in income for both.
The university’s approach has been initially welcomed by Coun Forbes.
He has written back to Prof Brink, saying: “The cuts that the council is required to make are without precedent. This week’s confirmation by Government of the local financial settlement has confirmed that our budget is based on a realistic assessment of the pressures we face, from cuts that are unfairly loaded on to cities like Newcastle.
“I appreciate there are also considerable pressure on university funding. In those circumstances the public institutions of our city will need to unite in our response and do whatever we can to work together to find innovative solutions.”