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Suffolk arts organisations including Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, New Wolsey Theatre and DanceEast, hit out at ‘devastating’ Suffolk County Council plans to scrap funding

Arts organisations in Suffolk have hit out at a council proposal to axe its investment in the arts and culture.

Suffolk County Council is proposing £500,000 in savings by stopping core funding to art and museum sector organisations from April 2025 as part of £64.7m budget cuts.

To assist with the transition, £528,000 of Covid recovery money will be made available to those organisations for 2024/25 to cover the funding blackhole for one year.

Owen Calvert-Lyons, artistic director of Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mark Westley
Owen Calvert-Lyons, artistic director of Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. Picture: Mark Westley

However, the theatres, festivals and arts groups impacted by the plan said the cut would provide an extremely modest difference to the authority’s finances but the cost to Suffolk would be much more significant.

A statement from DanceEast, Eastern Angles Theatre Company, First Light Festival, The New Wolsey Theatre, Primadonna Festival, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and Suffolk Artlink said: “Collectively, our organisations support 24,493 children and young people and 76,516 vulnerable people through our community engagement work.

“We also provide permanent employment for 154 staff, and project or contract employment for a further 499 staff.

“Suffolk-wide, the culture sector plays an important part in providing employment for local people, with almost 6,985 jobs* being supported by the sector.

“Our organisations, both collectively and individually, call on Suffolk County Council to consider the merit of a small cost saving, compared to the huge impact this will have on communities across Suffolk who benefit from our work.”

Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds said the plan left them just over 12 months to plan for a £100,000 reduction in funding.

Owen Calvert-Lyons, artistic director, said: “The proposed cut from Suffolk County Council poses a very real threat.

“Local authority budgets are under extreme pressure, and we understand that councils are having to make difficult decisions, but ceasing to invest in arts and culture is short-term thinking.”

He urged people to contact their councillor to express concern at the planned cuts.

Mr Calvert-Lyons said that the theatre delivers after-school drama clubs, teaches literacy projects in schools, provide spaces for the elderly to stay warm over winter – all services which were once the work of local authorities.

“Our services, and those of the wider arts and culture sector, represent fantastic value for money,” he said.

“These cuts will have a major impact on our theatre and the savings generated are miniscule compared to the value of our cultural offer.

“Ultimately, this is about quality of life. Suffolk has always been a great place to live because of the work of organisations like ours. Without arts and culture, Suffolk will be a far poorer place to live.”

In April last year, Theatre Royal became part of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio of cultural organisations.

The investment from Suffolk County Council underpins the ACE funding.

Roger Quince, chair of Theatre Royal’s board of trustees, said he fears for the impact on employees.

“This is really bad news,” he said.

“We have made great strides in recent years, not just in overcoming the problems created by Covid but in reaching many disadvantaged groups within the communities we serve.

“Much of this work has been funded by the County Council, whose contribution we have been able to leverage with matched funding from other sources.

“These sources themselves may now be threatened. With a small staff team of only 25, who have worked tirelessly over the past few years to recover from Covid and get Theatre Royal back on its feet, the loss of county council investment will be devastating for all of us.”

Councillor Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for finance and environment, said that in order to ensure appropriate levels of funding for key services such as adult and children’s care, and those most in need in Suffolk, the authority must make difficult decisions about all the other services it delivers, and how it delivers them.