We have only a few days left to save the Tower Arts Centre as an arts centre with a full professional art programme. If Ken Thornber agrees the paper sent to him last week, that spells the end of the Tower as an arts centre.
The problem is straightforward. There just isn’t enough money in the plan to fund a functioning evening programme. A crucial part of the Tower’s identify as an integrated centre for the arts is being removed. The Council’s own consultant’s report made clear that the Tower is efficiently run and that staffing could not be reduced without effectively ending the Tower’s programme. And the staffing and budget for the evening programme are being slashed.
And it gets worse. The plan doesn’t just propose to dramatically reduce spending for an evening programme. It proposes to spread that money across the whole of Winchester.
At this point, we enter the realms of fantasy. The plan for an evening programme is both vague and underfunded. If, as the Consultant’s report made clear, the reduced budget isn’t going to be enough to staff and manage an evening programme at the Tower, it certainly won’t be enough for the whole of Winchester.
70% of local people in the Council’s own telephone poll want to keep the Tower as an Arts Centre – over 450 people attended a public meeting backing the Tower – but they are being ignored. Why did the Conservatives go ahead with the consultation if they won’t take any notice?
Despite what Ken Thornber says, the cuts they propose are not to pay for adult social care. They’re covering consultants and extra staffing hired at the County Council’s headquarters. In the last two years, two ‘head office’ budgets in the County Council’s Recreation and Heritage budget – covering the director’s office and policy development – have increased by nearly £250k. This is more than twice the amount by which the Conservatives propose to cut the Tower’s budget.
The decision to cut the Tower also pre-dates this year’s social care budget problems. At her decision day meeting in July, Conservative Councillor Margaret Snaith said that she had been working on plans to transfer the Tower to King’s School for about a year – before the latest round of cuts to cover the Conservative’s problems in managing the adult social care budget – but after the Conservatives recreation and leisure budget started to show dramatic increases on head office spending.
To put it another way, the Conservatives have been dramatically increasing the amount they pay people to sit in the Castle and write arts policy, while proposing to slash the Tower Arts budget and get rid of people who are actually on the front line delivering the arts to local people.
The last few months have been a farce. The Conservatives have organised a consultation – and then refused to listen to it. They’ve asked for a report into different options – and then ignored it. They’ve said that they need more details of the plan to transfer the Tower to the school – and then decided to proceed anyway when they didn’t get them.
This goes beyond party politics. It’s a question of competence and commitment to the arts.