Returning to work on Thursday I was initially quite reluctant to walk through the front door. Not because I was still revelling from the Christmas and New Year breaks, but because I was listening to Melvyn Bragg’s rather good In Our Time show and I was about to lose my mobile signal.
Yesterday’s show was broadcast from the Newcastle’s Lit and Phil library and discussed the topic of culture. Lord Bragg opened the show by declaring Newcastle City Council’s proposal to cut their arts subsidy by 100% as “extraordinary” and “short-sighted”.
For me the show and Melvyn’s comments highlighted the impact local authorities can have on all aspects of our lives. The arts are particularly dependent upon public sector funding. It’s a brave soul that puts their head above the parapet and declares arts funding should be ring-fenced at the expense of social services and I’m not quite saying that. But I do believe that local authorities fostering local art goes a long way to promote local neighbourhoods, economies and social cohesion.
Having been born, bred and for a little while worked in Derby, I was intrigued to learn the city is home to a pretty impressive photography festival, FORMAT. This is an internationally renowned biennial festival that gathers pretty impressive coverage. These projects and local initiatives depend (often almost entirely) on local authority support. Yes, they can often gain private sponsorship and support, but for those looking to start something different, the local council is normally the first place they turn.
There have been some interesting responses to Newcastle’s budget proposals, with one former Leader of Council suggesting the cuts should be proportionate to the overall budget reduction. At the minute Newcastle’s budget proposals are just that. Proposals. Local residents have the opportunity to comment on Newcastle’s budget for the next year.
The discussions and debates surrounding local authority budget cuts are not going to disappear. The government has made it perfectly clear that more cuts are on the way. One positive opportunity further budget reductions may present is a renewed sense of civic engagement. Local authorities have a duty to listen to the views of their residents. Whilst many council services are almost out of bounds when it comes to cuts (think care, schools or street lighting), nowadays everything else is up for grabs. Only by responding to these consultation exercises and telling our local councils what we all think will we manage to safeguard the services that mean most to us.