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Bristol budget debate: Labour councillor defends arts cut U-turn

18 February 2014

A Labour councillor has defended his call to cut 10% of Bristol’s arts budget, despite the party’s U-turn in the face of opposition to the plan.

Councillor Sean Beynon had proposed the £100,000 cut to arts spending, from a total of just under £1million, to “improve the protection of its [Bristol's] citizens from crime”.

However, after an angry reaction over the weekend to the plan, the plan was dropped yesterday just a day before councillors were due to meet to debate the budget.

The creator of the See No Evil street art gallery in Nelson Street, Mike Bennett, criticised Labour last night for “not getting” the importance of arts in the city.

Cllr Beynon said in a statement that the arts budget did not deserve “special protection” or that they should “never come under scrutiny”.

But he accepted that cuts to the arts in the city’s own budget could have a serious impact on the ability of arts organisations to attract national funding from Arts Council England (ACE).

There were fears that local cuts would have reduced the confidence in ACE that the city was a robus destination for the arts where grants would have the most impact.

“At a time of significant cuts to public services, Labour does not believe that the arts budget should receive special protection while services to vulnerable people are being reduced,” Cllr Beynon said.

“We value the significant cultural benefits the arts bring to our city, and understand their contribution to economic growth and regeneration. However, that should not mean that these budgets should never come under scrutiny.

“Our original amendment sought a £100,000 cut to the Key Arts Provider budget, with the saving being used to stop a cut to crime prevention work in the city. However, in the last few days, we have been made aware of the potential impacts of a cut locally on national funding for Bristol.

“We accept that a cut made to arts provision by Bristol City Council could lead to much more significant reductions in central spending via the Arts Council, which would clearly damage Bristol’s economy.

“We do believe that there is room for a debate on arts funding in Bristol. Our fundamental belief is that subsidy should be refocused, with a very clear priority given to community organisations who can demonstrate how the work they do widens participation in the arts.”

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