by Stephen Moore
Saturday, February 9, 2013
The Royle Family star Ralf Little has criticised plans by Westminster Council to withdraw its entire £350,000 annual budget supporting arts and culture programmes, joined by a host of West End stars, actors and celebrities opposing the move.
Mr Little added his weight to critics of the hugely unpopular bid by the city council to stop its small grant funding programme that has helped the most vulnerable and deprived in society access workshops taking in performing arts, dance, creative writing and much more.
He has signed a petition against the proposals, which already boasts 650 names in a week, including West End actors Samantha Bond, Alistair McGowan, Nickolas Grace and Abigail Thaw.
Mr Little was reported as saying: “People think the arts are something that is disposable. But Westminster is a borough that culturally and economically relies on the arts. Without them, we will be a much poorer city.
“If you cut that off, you remove the supply line of creativity and talent – of the young writers and young performers that are the future and who are going to keep the whole industry rolling on.”
Actors Peter Polycarpou, Saskia Reeves, Paula Wilcox and Ian McShane, together with former ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ judge Arlene Philips, theatre director Philip Hedley and author and actress Barbara Ewing have also signed the petition, launched by Westminster’s leader of the opposition, Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg.
It calls on the council to reject proposals it has put forward to slash its funding to zero over two years to groups including Paddington-based DreamArts, the English National Ballet, Westminster Mind, Union Dance and Streetwise Opera for outreach programmes. It could also harm the council’s flagship anti-gang initiative Your Choice, which uses such diversion programmes to tackle youth violence.
The current programme’s budget of £350,000 represents just 0.04 per cent of the council’s spending.
Cllr Dimoldenberg caalled it “madness” to cut the funding, adding: “The campaign to save Westminster’s arts and culture programme is growing. The whole city will be poorer through the loss of these innovative projects.”
Samuel West, chair of the National Campaign for the Arts, has added his voice to the clamour of opposition. He said: “This is a cruel, joyless plan. Look at the projects this money funds: work with the young, the elderly and people with disabilities which help them to think creatively and independently, decrease their isolation, increase their confidence, empathy, happiness and health. Don’t people deserve that quality of life?
“To pretend that this money would otherwise go to meals-on-wheels or hip replacements is a false dichotomy: all so-called ‘tough decisions’ are nevertheless decisions, and this one, from a flagship Council, smacks of ideology.”
But Cllr Melvyn Caplan, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for finance and customer services, said: “In an ideal world we would continue commissioning our community arts projects, but the reality of the financial picture for councils means that tough decisions are unavoidable.
“We are literally choosing between arts projects and keeping a library open, or retaining gangs workers on our estates, or running our meals on wheels service. There is no easy answer for the savings that are required, but we have chosen to protect services that are most vital to the vulnerable in our society.
“Those criticising the proposal need to offer realistic alternatives as to which public services they feel should be reduced in place of arts projects – because the fact is we must save £100m over the next four years and maintaining the status quo is not an option.”
Councillors are due to vote on the proposals on March 6. The petition can be found at http://petitions.westminster.gov.uk/artsandculture