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Sudbury Arts Centre fears proposed Suffolk County Council cuts to arts grants would damage community wellbeing

Sudbury’s central cultural landmark has warned that plans to slash arts funding in Suffolk would damage not only the visitor economy but people’s wellbeing.

Trustees at the Sudbury Arts Centre, on Market Hill, penned an open letter to Suffolk County Council expressing concerns in response to proposed cuts of more than half a million pounds in annual support to the arts sector.

Citing growing financial pressures on public services, the county council stated it had been forced to make difficult decisions in its draft budget for 2024/25.

Launch of Sudbury Arts Centre, with Mayor Jan Osborne and Roger Green cutting the ribbon Picture: Mecha Morton
Launch of Sudbury Arts Centre, with Mayor Jan Osborne and Roger Green cutting the ribbon Picture: Mecha Morton

However, the reduction of £528,000 in arts and culture grants has drawn strong criticism from organisations across Suffolk, which fear widespread impact if the cuts go ahead.

Now, the venue formerly known as St Peter’s, which reopened last year after a major refurbishment, has added its voice to the opposition.

The open letter reads: “We are aware of the difficult decisions all councils are having to make in the current economic climate.

“But cutting investment in arts and culture would be damaging, not only to the visitor economy, but also to the health and wellbeing of the community.

“Arts and cultural organisations and practitioners are already striving to operate in very difficult circumstances. What is a relatively small saving to the council budget is a lifeline to many of these organisations.”

Suffolk County Council acknowledged it had been the most challenging budget-setting process for many years.

However, the authority defended its decision as necessary to ensure funding for adult and child support services.

The reduction in arts funding is part of approximately £64.7 million in cuts proposed by Suffolk County Council, which is also planning a tax increase to maintain key services.

The authority explained that funding from central Government had failed to keep up with inflation, meaning it had no option but to make hard choices in setting its budget for the coming financial year.

However, Sudbury Arts Centre echoed the concerns of many other arts organisations in Suffolk, that the cuts would have a huge negative impact on thousands of young and vulnerable people it supports.

The venue also highlighted the description of the visitor economy on the Suffolk Growth website, which says that it is ‘intrinsically linked’ to the county’s cultural venues, heritage buildings and natural landscapes.

The open letter continues: “The added social value is demonstrated via outreach projects and participatory programmes, reaching vulnerable and marginalised groups, such as people living with dementia, and children and adults with learning disabilities.

“With this in mind, we echo the words of our colleagues and ask you to consider the merit of a small cost saving, compared to the huge impact this will have on communities across Suffolk, which benefit from our work.”

A further statement from the centre added: “We’re only just starting our journey and hope to work with affected arts organisations to deliver inclusive and engaging activities for the community, especially for those most in need.

“We’ve emailed our Suffolk county councillors to express our concern at the 100 per cent cut to core arts.”

In response to the objections, the county council’s deputy leader Richard Rout insisted he understood the emotion around the budget proposals.

But he claimed the money currently spent on arts grants could instead pay for 12 elderly people to be in residential care, or 23 children in foster care, for a year.

“Demand is at an all-time high and shows little sign of abating,” said Cllr Rout, who is also the council’s cabinet member for finance. “We must make choices – the toughest for years – about what we spend.

“We make no apology for prioritising the protection of adults and children. This is why we’re spending an extra £74 million on these services, but having to make £65 million of savings.

“Suffolk County Council must focus on what it is fundamentally and legally here to do and ensure the limited resources it has available are spent directly supporting those most in need.

“For now, annual arts grants are not something we can do, if it means vulnerable residents going without support from us.

“I do not dispute the benefit, both social and economic, that the arts bring.

“But, when we are faced with children that need to be taken into care, or getting those with special educational needs to and from school, or keeping a vulnerable resident in their own home, we must act.”

To ease the transition, the council has promised that all arts organisations will receive a final payment to cover the next 12 months, giving them time to seek alternative sources of revenue.