Anger as arts budget is slashed

PUBLISHED: 12:15 15 November 2007 | UPDATED: 13:04 04 May 2010

COUNCILLORS have stuck to their guns and agreed to slice a massive £70,000 from East Cambridgeshire s arts budget despite angry protests and a petition carrying over 1,000 signatures. Supporters packed the council chamber on Monday night demanding the co

COUNCILLORS have stuck to their guns and agreed to slice a massive £70,000 from East Cambridgeshire's arts' budget despite angry protests and a petition carrying over 1,000 signatures.

Supporters packed the council chamber on Monday night demanding the controversial decision be reversed.

But after a three-hour debate, the move to cut the grant to arts development organisation ADeC by 40 per cent was pushed through.

Furious Liberal Democrats have accused the Conservatives of making a political decision backed up by a "flawed" survey which showed almost 50 per cent of ratepayers supported the cash saving.

Conservatives have defended the decision, however, claiming it was necessary as they face budget savings of £282,000 for the coming year.

"This was a vindictive, knee jerk decision," said Liberal Democrat Cllr Ian Allen. "It was a political decision taken for so-called efficiency savings.

"The survey showed that ratepayers had wanted savings to be made on members' expenses and administration.

Conservative Cllr Peter Creswell, chairman of the community services committee, said: "The decision was taken purely on funding grounds. It was a painful exercise.

"Any controlling group has got to keep its eye firmly on the ball as far as expenditure is concerned in view of the Government's cash saving targets."

He added that he was confident that, as ADeC hands out just £12,000 in grants to other organisations these would not suffer a knock-on effect.

And he defended the decision not to cut members' expenses, saying the issue had been independently scrutinised recently and members had not endorsed a recommendation which would have cost ratepayers' more money.

Cllr Michael Allan, chairman of overview and scrutiny committee voted against the grant cut.

"This decision was taken too early, too quickly and without consultation with ADeC," he said. "This was a very hot issue and I wanted more discussion on it."

ADeC director, Jane Wilson, expressed her disappointment at the decision. But she pledged to move forward and explore plans for an arts centre for East Cambridgeshire, possible at The Maltings, which would incorporate the cinema and Babylon Gallery with café, restaurant and bar under one roof.

"Our review of the arts service clearly highlighted a need for this and we already have good audiences at the cinema and the gallery," she said.

"I was disappointed with the decision because I felt we had strong arguments and fantastic support.

"Now we have to look forward and plan services for next year with the resources that we have and develop alternative and more sustainable ways to fund the work we do.

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