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Birmingham City Council has announced plans to remove all financial support for its regularly funded arts organisations as part of a strict budget designed to save £300m over the next two years.

Clockwise from the top left: Ikon gallery, CBSO, Birmingham REP, Daria Stanciulescu as Fairy Carabosse (Birmingham Royal Ballet)
Clockwise from top left: The Ikon gallery, Kazuk Yamada conducting CBSO, Birmingham Rep, Daria Stanciulescu in Birmingham Royal Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty

Bs0u10e01, Andrew Fox, Ross Jukes, Tristram Kenton

Birmingham City Council (BCC) proposals to cease all grants to regularly-funded arts organisations by 2026 mark the “endgame” of 15 years of government cuts to local authorities, Sean Foley, Artistic Director at Birmingham Rep has said.

Foley made the comments on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme following the publication of the financially stricken council’s plans to save £300m over the next two years by making wide-ranging cuts to services.

Under the proposals, all grants to its regularly funded arts organisations - including Arts Council England NPOs City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (CBSO), Birmingham Rep Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, IKON Gallery and Birmingham Opera Company - will be reduced by 50% this year before being completely removed in 2025/26.


Just last year, councillors had given the go-ahead for £9m to be set aside to support the arts and cultural sector in the city over the next three years.

The grant cuts will also affect FABRIC, Sampad, Ex Cathedra, Legacy Centre of Excellence and B: Music, the charity which operates Symphony Hall, saving a total of £630,000 in 2024/25 and £1.2m in 2025/26. There will also be a complete cut in support for 10 local arts forums.

B: Music will keep its premises grant, and full financial support will initially be retained for Black History Month and Birmingham Heritage Week, but those events and all cultural project grants will also face a 100% cut from 2025/26, saving £452,000 in the first year and £487,000 in the second year.

In addition, Birmingham’s budget proposals include the closure of 25 of the city’s 36 libraries. While the city’s flagship £188.8m central library, which opened in 2013, is one of the 11 that will remain open, the plans also contain changes to pricing for a range of library services, including around a 10% increase for borrowing orchestral scores.

'The National of the Midlands'

Speaking to the BBC, Foley noted that 15 years ago, The Rep received around £1.5m in council funding, which has now dwindled to £158,000. Describing the theatre as “The National of the Midlands”, he questioned the complete removal of its council funding in the context of the government’s levelling-up agenda, asking, “Is anyone going around saying we should we should cut public investment to the National or the RSC?”

In a joint statement to Arts Professional, Foley and The Rep’s Executive Director, Rachael Thomas, said: “Any reductions in The Rep’s grant funding creates challenges for us in sustaining diverse and enriching programmes, including theatre productions, community engagement initiatives, educational outreach and talent development.” 

Ian Hyde, Chief Executive Officer at Ikon, also warned that the loss of its current funding will “impact on how the gallery serves the city’s communities and our audiences” but added that it is “determined to stay open and free for everyone”. The gallery received council funding of over £300,000 in 2012, a figure that stands at £19,000 today.

Meanwhile, CBSO receives £630,000 yearly from the council, down from £1.4m a decade ago. In a blog last year, CBSO noted that "in 2010, BCC's arts investment stood at £9.7m; it is currently £2.9m a year."  

Responding to the council's new budget, a spokesperson for CBSO said: "In the face of ongoing austerity and reduction in public funding, alongside Covid and rising inflation, the arts and culture sector has continued to be resilient.

"As the sector responsible for the talent, development, and inspiration pipelines for the UK’s global economic and reputational success, we don’t plan on stopping."

A spokesperson for ACE said the organisation was "grateful for the commitment shown by those working in the sector" in Birmingham but was "not in a position to fill funding gaps".

They added: "We will work closely with funded organisations who are facing financial challenges and be as flexible as we can be in the way they deliver their funding agreements so they can continue their work.”

'Far from an isolated phenomenon'

Recently, several local authorities, including SomersetHampshireSuffolkCoventryBristolNottingham, and Leeds, have proposed cuts to their cultural services as they look to prioritise funds for social care.

Founder of Campaign for the Arts, Jack Gamble, said he was “utterly dismayed" by BCC's funding cuts, adding: “What’s happening in Birmingham is extreme but far from an isolated phenomenon. Eight councils have effectively declared bankruptcy since 2018, more than in the 30 years before that.

“Leaders in national and local government urgently need to come together and grasp this nettle. One in four councillors think it’s likely their councils will go under before the end of the year because of a lack of funding to keep key services running. Without action now, arts access across the nation is critically at risk."

'Disengagement from the cultural sector'

Last August, BCC issued a section 114 notice committing to spend money only to protect vulnerable people and maintain statutory services. This week’s budget contained sweeping money-saving measures, including council job losses, cuts to leisure facilities, youth services and community centres and a 10% council tax rise. 

It also revealed that despite the new cost-cutting programme, for BCC to balance its books, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is enabling Exceptional Financial Support of £1.26bn.

A spokesperson from the Local Government Association warned that “without long-term funding and support”, nationally, there will be further reductions to core cultural services, such as libraries, “which could result in disengagement from the cultural sector from both communities and staff.”

“Cost and demand pressures will see higher allocations towards statutory services such as homelessness, children’s services and adult social care; this is leading to reduction of grants to community groups and local cultural organisations across the country," said the spokesperson.

"Despite this, no council has made 100% cuts to culture budgets."

A headshot of Mary Stone