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Westminster Council in 'shameful' bid to axe entire £350,000 arts and culture programme

PUBLISHED: 12:09 25 January 2013 | UPDATED: 12:09 25 January 2013

Paddington Arts at the 2011 Notting Hill Carnival. Picture: Polly Hancock

Paddington Arts at the 2011 Notting Hill Carnival. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Arts organisations and charities are set to lose vital financial support from Westminster Council as it unveiled plans this week to cut its entire £350,000 arts and culture programme.

Dance performers, from left, Myisha Box, 11, Michelle St Louis, seven, and Leah Gourde, 10, in Thrilla 2012, part of Paddington Arts' Winter Show. Picture: Polly HancockDance performers, from left, Myisha Box, 11, Michelle St Louis, seven, and Leah Gourde, 10, in Thrilla 2012, part of Paddington Arts' Winter Show. Picture: Polly Hancock

A report to the Conservative-led council’s budget task group says the funding will “cease over a two-year period” leaving dozens of groups short of funds from next April, with the entire £350,000 withdrawn by April 2015, the latest tranche of £30million-worth of cuts to be announced for the next two years.

Those affected include youth arts groups Paddington Arts in Woodfield Road, Maida Hill, and the Harrow Road-based DreamArts, who deliver a city-wide performing arts programme of drama, dance, singing and media workshops for six to 26-year-olds.

The programme offers volunteering opportunities and improves the chances of young people from the most deprived areas getting into further education.

It could also harm the council’s flagship anti-gang initiative Your Choice, which tackles youth violence. A consortium offering tailored creative services for children and young people at risk, including DreamArts, the Paddington Development Trust, Paddington Arts and Vital Regeneration, also relies on money from Westminster Council’s arts and culture programme.

Paddington Arts' Summer Show last year included a performances by a steel band.Paddington Arts' Summer Show last year included a performances by a steel band.

Westminster Mind will also be hit, as it receives funds to run a 12-week recovery programme of creative workshops and tasters tailored to help vulnerable adults regain their independence and find work placements in professional arts organisations.

Projects run by leading central London institutions, including the Serpentine Gallery, Soho Theatre and the English National Ballet – which received funding for dance workshops for older people in day care centres – are also set to lose money from Westminster.

Overall, the council plans to cut funding by £150,000 in 2013/14 and the remaining £200,000 will disappear after the 2014/15 financial year, forcing groups to scavenge for arts and charitable grants elsewhere, which are already increasingly hard to come by.

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour opposition, called the move “a shameful and mean-minded action from the Nasty Party”.

Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg, Westminster Labour group leader, called the cut 'shameful'. Picture: Nigel SuttonCllr Paul Dimoldenberg, Westminster Labour group leader, called the cut 'shameful'. Picture: Nigel Sutton

He added: “The current programme is designed to give the most vulnerable residents of Westminster – the young, those with disabilities and the elderly – an opportunity to improve their lives through the arts and through culture. The whole city will be poorer through the loss of these innovative projects.

“This decision is even more difficult to understand when you consider that £350,000 is such a tiny proportion of the council’s £900million annual spending. The Conservatives have got their priorities back-to-front by taking an axe to the arts but preserving their £3million-a-year budget for propaganda and glossy leaflets.

“It is madness for the council to reduce community access to Westminster’s wonderful array of world-class arts and culture. If anything, we should be making more of these magnificent cultural facilities and arts organisations on our doorstep, rather than reducing access to them for children, young people and the elderly.”

But Cllr Melvyn Caplan, Westminster Council’s cabinet member for finance and customer services, said the alternative was cutting old people’s meals on wheels service.

He said: “We don’t take these decisions lightly, but we are facing unprecedented cuts to our budgets and having to make tough spending decisions within all our areas of service. The total level of savings is £100m over a four-year period.

“If we had not reduced arts commissioning, then an alternative would have been to take money from our meals on wheels service. These are the stark choices and we’ve taken the decision to protect the most vulnerable and elderly by keeping our meals on wheels service as it is.

“It is easy to oppose reductions in some services, but those that do have to offer realistic alternatives.

“Westminster has a vibrant and strong arts community and we are balancing this against the need to maintain other vital services in our community.”

The proposals are yet to be rubber-stamped by the council.

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