Imelda Staunton is ready to fight for our theatres

OSCAR nominated actress Imelda Staunton has slammed the Arts Council for a funding shake up that could leave theatres out of pocket

Tan Parsons

OSCAR nominated actress Imelda Staunton has slammed the Arts Council for a funding shake up that could leave theatres out of pocket.

Small theatres such as Jacksons Lane in Highgate face slashed budgets and a battle for survival.

The Vera Drake star, who lives in West Hampstead, said: "We are all completely shocked at the moment, and I've signed a petition for Downing Street to say 'don't just make these changes without discussing it first'.

"It all seems a little bit unfair and quite rightly people are putting up a fight.

"The big industry we've got here is London theatre and the actors who perform in the West End perform all over the country and they need regional theatres to work in.

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"The Arts Council really hasn't given these theatres enough time - it's just ludicrous. Yes, I would rather we have a hospital than a theatre, but culture is what makes us human beings instead of animals.

"I'm pleading with the Arts Council to listen to us."

Jacksons Lane, which only reopened last week after being shut for a year of major repairs, looks set to suffer a crippling cut of £128,000.

And even theatres that are due for an increase in Arts Council grants have criticised the process.

Instead of the usual period of 12 months, this year the Arts Council only had two months to decide how to spend its budget after a government review.

Nick Kent, director of the Tricycle theatre in Kilburn, said: "We are anticipating our usual uplift - which is the same for about 75 per cent of clients funded by the Arts Council. But I think the way the Arts Council has gone about this funding shake up is disgraceful.

"The information it based decisions on seems to be invalid or wrong and a lot of decisions seem to be completely arbitrary."

Hampstead Theatre is also expecting a positive outcome, but will not comment until its grant is confirmed.

A spokeswoman for the London branch of the Arts Council said: "The short timetable is not of our making - the responsibility is with the government.

"Of course people will be upset and in some cases angry when they receive bad news. But that's what the response process is about - it's a chance for organisations to say to us 'we think you're wrong and this is why'.

"These changes will not have a knock-on effect across the whole of the industry and to say any of our funding decisions have been made arbitrarily is categorically not the case.

"When we enter into a funding agreement we monitor how the organisation is faring against its own business plan - whether it is hitting box office targets and putting on what it says it is going to, for instance. There are copious meetings, paperwork and feedback behind all our decisions - in the cases where there are funding cuts it really should not be a surprise to the organisation."

The Arts Council is set to announce the final decision for individual arts centres later this month.