A FORMER Newcastle Council leader has turned up the heat on his successor by saying it would be wrong to cut all funding to the arts.
Tony Flynn, the Labour leader of Newcastle City Council from 1994 to 2004, said current leader Nick Forbes should re-think plans to cut all of the council’s funding to 10 organisations.
In a letter to a national newspaper at the weekend, Mr Flynn said the city had a strong heritage connected to the arts, adding cultural experiences were a “necessity”.
He wrote: “Newcastle City Council has a proud tradition of investing in the arts, contributing to the cultural renaissance of the region, making the city an attractive place to live and visit, and creating economic development.
“Ten years ago, the council set up an arts trust using the part sale of Newcastle Airport to provide funding for all the major cultural facilities in the city.
“This brought in funding to the tune of £75m, which enabled organisations to build new facilities and develop revenue streams.
“Despite Government cuts, it is a false choice to suggest 100% cuts in arts funding are needed to protect socially needy services.
“Cultural facilities are not a luxury but a necessity for a vibrant city.
“We need proportionate cuts in cultural facilities, which will involve the closure of some libraries, swimming pools and a reduction in arts grants – as in other cities – but will allow arts organisations to engage in constructive discussions with the council and plan for phased reductions that do not threaten their financial viability or cut off the funding from national arts organisations.”
In defence of the council, fellow former council leader Lord Jeremy Beecham said the authority was wrongly being accused of trying to “pull a political stunt and falsifying the figures” as it prepares its budget.
He said: “The figures demonstrating the scale of cuts needed by 2015-16 to balance the books are based on steeply falling government grant and the rising cost of and demand for services, especially in the fields of child and adult social care.
“They have not been dreamed up by council leader Nick Forbes but produced by the city’s respected treasurer, Paul Woods.
“In my 45 years as a councillor, I’ve never known a treasurer so exercised by a local government finance settlement and the potential cumulative impact on the council’s finances and on its capacity to meet the needs of our community.
“The council is sensibly taking a three-year view within which not only will the robustness of the treasurer’s estimates be reviewed, not least by its independently chaired audit committee, but adjustments could be made to phased cuts should this become possible.” He added: “All Labour councillors are agonising over the scale of cuts, unprecedented even by the standards of the Thatcher years, as we see not only cuts to the arts, but to play and youth provision, highway and parks maintenance, and much else.
“In a city which hasn’t had a Tory councillor since 1996, the notion this is a political stunt to embarrass the Government is fanciful.”
Consultation on the council’s budget closed on Friday, and final decisions will be made on cuts in March.