The ‘Evening Standard’ reports;
“One of London’s wealthiest boroughs plans to axe its entire £350,000 arts commissioning budget. A report to Tory-controlled Westminster council’s budget task group proposes a halt to all funding over the next two years.
The move would hit literacy and community programmes at venues including the Serpentine Gallery and the Soho Theatre as well as pioneering work English National Ballet has been carrying out with Parkinson’s sufferers.
Melvyn Caplan, cabinet member for finance, said the council faced “unprecedented cuts” to budgets — requiring £120 million over four years.
“If we had not reduced arts commissioning, then an alternative would have been to take money from our meals on wheels service,” he said. “These are the stark choices.” But Labour group leader Paul Dimoldenberg said the move would be “a shameful and mean-minded action by the Nasty Party”.
He added that the funding gave some of the most vulnerable Westminster residents — including the elderly, the young and the disabled — a chance to improve their lives through culture.
“The Conservatives have got their priorities back to front by taking an axe to the arts but preserving their £3 million-a-year budget for propaganda and glossy leaflets,” he said.
The English National Ballet said its work with Parkinson’s sufferers — made possible by the Westminster council support — had been endorsed by Parkinson’s UK and had a waiting list.
“We’d be very sorry not to be able to meet this demand through our Westminster-funded activities,” it added. Actor Samuel West, chairman of the National Campaign for the Arts, said the funding was just 0.0004 per cent of the council’s spend. To axe all of it was a “cruel, joyless plan”.
He added: “To teach young people in particular that art isn’t for them doesn’t just make their lives worse, it threatens the future of our industry. The arts are not a hobby — they’re one of our most successful international exports.”
The Serpentine Gallery’s director Julia Peyton-Jones said the council gave 18 per cent of its education budget to work with children in the borough — fifth highest in the UK for child poverty.
“While we never take any funding for granted and understand the financial constraints in the current economic climate, the prospect of any cuts to our funding is extremely worrying.”