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Arts cuts vs crime prevention

17 February 2014

Show of Strength

11.30am. Labour have now withdrawn their amendment. Bristol Culture understands, however, that it was removed on a technicality rather than a change of heart.

The Labour Group on Bristol City Council is proposing to cut £100,000 from the annual arts budget.

The move, led by Southville councillor Sean Benyon, aims to maintain spending on crime reduction projects while cutting by nine per cent funding to the so-called Key Arts Providers - organisations funded by the council to the tune of £900,000, from the Asian Arts Agency to St George’s.

Grants to community arts groups will be maintained in the amendment, which looks likely to be passed tomorrow at the annual budget meeting of the full council at City Hall.

It may be passed thanks to behind-the-scenes dealing between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, leading to former Lib Dem group leader and cabinet member for culture Simon Cook revealing how “absolutely appalled” he is by his own party.

He said: “This has the potential to have big ramifications at a point when Arts Council England were just saying that Bristol was an exemplar city…

“I’m very angry and I’m absolutely appalled by my own party behaving like this.”

Bristol Culture asked the Bristol Labour group for a comment but they have yet to respond. On Twitter, @SWLabourParty said: “Call not being made lightly, tough decisions having to be made.”

Labour’s proposed amendment has provoked an outcry from Bristol’s arts community.

Watershed managing director Dick Penny said: “Cutting the arts at this time will be very damaging to Bristol on all counts.”

Sheila Hannon, creative producer of Show of Strength, based in Benyon’s Southville ward and who last year brought theatre into shops along North Street and East Street (above),  said that she was “absolutely gutted”.

She said: “Arts and culture regenerate communities… and build community cohesion. Strong communities have lower crime rates and people want to live there.”

Bristol journalist and author Eugene Byrne, however, thinks that the move “has all the classic hallmarks of traditional budget-row grandstanding”.

Writing on the Arts Cuts Bristol 2014 Facebook page he said: “Whatever happens, it’s a win-win for the Labour group; if they get their way they can claim victory, and if it’s voted down or, better still from their viewpoint, vetoed by the Mayor, they can paint the administration as in the pockets of the arty crowd while ordinary people are enduring all manner of hardships.”

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