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Local authority says it is being forced to make cuts but organisations affected warn that the move will have a huge impact on local communities.

Exterior New Wolsey Theatre near Ipswich, Suffolk, England
New Wolsey Theatre is among the organisations affected by the proposed cuts
Photo: 

© JThomas/Creative Commons

Arts organisations and museums in Suffolk will have their local authority funding entirely cut under proposals being put forward by Suffolk County Council. 

The council, which currently provides £500,000 a year to arts and culture organisations, said the move was necessary because its finances have been hit hard by inflation and rising demand for social care services.

Of the seven affected five are National Portfolio Organisations: New Wolsey Theatre; Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds; Eastern Angles Theatre Company; DanceEast; and First Light Festival.

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Suffolk County Council has said that to assist with the transition, it will provide £528,000 of Covid recovery money to arts and museum sector organisations for the coming 2024/25 financial year.

It added that it will work with them and provide support to "link them into wider public sector and statutory services to source potential future funding opportunities".

'Huge impact'

A joint statement issued by organisations affected - which also includes Primadonna Festival and Suffolk Artlink - said the proposed cut represents an "extremely modest difference" to the council’s overall finances, representing just 0.057% of its budget for 2023/24.  

“Whilst we will need some time to consider the full impact of these proposals, our immediate concern is how any decision might impact the people of Suffolk," the statement said.

"However, the ‘cost’ to our county will be so much more significant. Collectively, our organisations support 24,493 children and young people and 76,516 vulnerable people through our community engagement work.  

"We also provide permanent employment for 154 staff and project or contract employment for a further 499 staff. Suffolk-wide, the culture sector plays an important part in providing employment for local people, with almost 6,985 jobs being supported by the sector. 

"Our organisations, both collectively and individually, call on Suffolk County Council to consider the merit of a small cost saving, compared to the huge impact this will have on communities across Suffolk who benefit from our work.”

Difficult decisions

The New Wolsey Theatre said it had received financial support from the council for four decades, adding that the proposed cuts could force it into making difficult decisions about the extent of its ongoing services. 

The theatre's Chief Executive and Artistic Director, Douglas Rintoul, said: "These proposals come at a very difficult time for cultural organisations still recovering from the impact of the pandemic and grappling with the added strain of the cost-of-living crisis.

"The reduction in investment of our engagement initiatives will not only be felt by us but will ultimately cost local government more in the long run. 

"The cultural sector stands at the heart of Ipswich and Suffolk, shaping the region's identity. These proposed cuts could jeopardise the artistic and creative vibrancy of the area and threaten economic growth. 

"The cultural and creative industries generate over £272m for the region and contribute immeasurably to the visitor economy, community wellbeing, sense of identity and enjoyment of life at its every stage.” 

The proposals are part of a package of measures put together by Suffolk County Council that will see £64.7m of savings made in 2024/25 and 2025/26, with an additional £42.7m invested in children’s services and £29.9m in adult social care.

'Competition for every pound'

Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Environment, said it was the most challenging budget-setting process the council has faced for many years. 

He said that to ensure appropriate funding levels for those most in need in Suffolk, difficult decisions about the council's other services must be made.

“This is necessary because the demand on council services for those most in need in Suffolk is at an all-time high," he said. 

"The cost of providing many of those services is significant, but the funding that we need is not keeping up. Across the country, councils are having to make similar tough choices.

"There is competition for every pound across all our services, and I understand that each service means something to someone.”

The proposals are due to be discussed at a council meeting next week ahead of a final debate and vote on 15 February.

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Comments

Correction: First Light Festival and DanceEast are also National Portfolio Organisations and affected by these cuts - not only theatre but across all art forms and festivals.

Apologies Lucy - no omission intended. We do mention First Light Festival and DanceEast in the copy and will update the piece to make clear that they are also NPOs.