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Issue 313 – Merlin Theatre says “We will fight the cuts!”

LOVERS of the arts in Frome say they will fight a proposed £160,000 cut to arts funding which could be implemented by Somerset County Council.

This week, the full council will decide which areas of funding will be cut and by how much. Somerset County Council is looking to cut £43million from its budget, but says this is only half of what is needed, with council leader, cllr Ken Maddock saying, “We are in a dreadful state.”
More than 200 people, including many protestors, attended a cabinet debate on 1st November to hear about the proposed cuts to services, which includes the proposed £160,000 cut from the council’s art funding budget.
The Merlin Theatre fears the cuts will have a ‘devastating effect’ on its events and other venues and activities in Frome will also be hit.
Director of the Merlin, Claudia Berry, explains how the cuts will affect the 240-seat theatre, “These cuts will have a devastating effect on the Merlin’s ability to provide the community with the high level programme of activity we offer, including our youth groups, our community work and productions, the professional shows that we bring to Frome, the outreach work we do with groups such as the Keycentre, Critchill School, and the ‘Give it a Go’ scheme.
“The cuts will also have a direct impact on how we support artists and companies based in and around Frome such as Pip Utton and the Mark Bruce Dance Co who use the theatre to create and perform new work.
“The current Somerset County Council arts budget stands at £159,000, which is only 0.0004 of Somerset County Council’s overall spend of £350 million. Arts organisations who provide frontline services across Somerset believe that the consequence of the cuts will have a far greater impact on the cultural offer within Somerset than any contribution this cut will make to overall savings.
“Current arts spending in Somerset positively impacts on the cultural life of the county. It plays a vital role in enhancing education, health and community life. It supports villages to put on professional arts events and allows schools and children’s centres to provide greater levels of arts education.
“It also helps ensure the ongoing success of local theatres and arts centres and enables participation in dance, visual arts, media, theatre and music by tens of thousands of Somerset residents, from the under 5s to the very elderly.
“We do understand cuts need to be made, a cut of 26% over three years will allow arts organisations a chance to develop further business strategies to meet the challenges of the new climate and would not mean such a potentially devastating impact on Somerset and its residents.

Fight to survive

“During these difficult times the Merlin Theatre will fight to survive, the most important issue being that despite the cuts to arts funding, we will survive.”
The proposed cuts come as a result of a projected shortfall from Somerset County Council totalling around £72m. The cuts to services will total £43m in an attempt to subside this deficit.
Somerset County Council Leader Councillor Ken Maddock said, “Cuts have to be made right across the board, even with the £43m saving from cutting services, it still will not bridge the deficit gap, more cuts are due to come.
“The arts funding could see a cut of around £160,000, however there is another £160,000 available to the arts funding which will remain untouched. The Council are looking to provide ‘hand ups’ rather than ‘hand outs’, transferring practice of just giving out subsidiaries to help businesses become self supportive.

Organise priorities

“We recognise the benefits that the arts bring to an area but quite simply we do not have the money to continue to support the funding.
“We have to organise our priorities, managing life and death issues ultimately being efficient in our cuts.
“Efficiency alone will not see us through a gap this large in our spending. It is important to remember that these figures are over a three year period. Cuts that we are looking to make will be; • £12m from the youth service • £10m from community services • £48m from main road services.
“These are a few of the high profile cuts which could see a reduction in PCSOs, leisure facilities, the heritage sector, arts funding, adult social care and learning disabilities. The list is extensive and we need strict prioritisation.
“Until we receive confirmation of the Comprehensive Spending Review it is difficult to say what will happen for certain. It is a place where, as a Council, we do not want to be but unfortunately some sectors will be hit harder than others and this has to be done.”

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