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Cost-saving proposals include reducing support to the county’s theatres as the council faces a £100m funding shortfall.

Exterior of the Brewhouse Theatre
The Brewhouse Theatre is among the organisations which could lose funding
Photo: 

Neil Owen CC BY-SA 2.0

Somerset Council is proposing a £420,000 cut to its cultural budget over the next two years.

The cut forms part of wider plans to bridge a £100m funding gap for financial year 2024/25. Somerset Council declared a financial emergency in November and is planning to reduce its deficit by lowering funding to discretionary services, increasing council tax by 10% and using £36.8m of its reserves.

“This is what a financial emergency looks like. No decisions have been made, but all of these savings and the 10% council tax increase are unprecedented actions that have to be considered if we are to steer this authority through a period of extreme pressure,” Council Leader Bill Revans said.

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A £420,000 cut to Somerset Council’s cultural services budget would represent a 9% reduction on its current level, and forms part of a wider 11% cut to community services equivalent to £3.9m.

Reducing support to theatres in Somerset has been highlighted as one way to cut costs in the council’s budget update, shared after the executive’s latest meeting on 15 January.

This means an ongoing subsidy to the Brewhouse Theatre in Taunton, equivalent to £132,000 over two years, could be under threat.

Val Hammond, Chair of the Brewhouse Theatre, told the BBC she is confident the theatre will be able to continue: “It will mean that we look for other sources of funding, but generally speaking we are looking at keeping the programme, so that it looks the same; but we will make sure that some of our more commercially successful events support things that are less commercially viable”.

Meanwhile, local press has reported that keeping the Octagon Theatre closed until a new business case is approved could save the council £174,000. The council halted a £30m project to remodel the theatre into Somerset’s "flagship arts venue" last October after it was deemed “unaffordable”. It has since said alternative plans and funding sources are being drawn up.

A consultation period on the proposed budget closed yesterday (22 January). Public responses will be used to shape final recommendations considered by the full council.

A further budget update is expected by 7 February, when the council’s executive will next convene, before the final budget is debated by the full council on 20 February.

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BCP new budget is proposing cuts to grants to local arts orgs, removing its arts staff and stopping funding of it's Arts by the Sea festival: https://democracy.bcpcouncil.gov.uk/documents/s47534/Appendix%205a%20-%20Savings%20Schedules.pdf