Tears spilled at Birmingham City Council budget meeting over 100% arts cuts

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Birmingham City Council has held an extraordinary meeting to rubber stamp multi million pound cuts budget, including 100% axe to arts funding

Emotions ran high at a Birmingham City Council meeting amid warnings that “savage” budget cuts could cause Birmingham to become a “cultural wasteland.”

The city’s flagship venues, such as the Birmingham REP, Birmingham Royal Ballet, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Ikon Gallery, have been rocked by proposed grant cuts which could see them lose all of their council funding next year.

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The Labour-run council recently revealed how it intends to slash services across the city and hike council tax as it struggles with an enormous budget black hole of around £300 million.

During an ‘extraordinary meeting’ of the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, Labour councillor Liz Clements became emotional as she discussed the potential impact on Birmingham’s cultural scene.

“We’ve had a discussion over the past few months about what’s essential and what’s not essential and for me, arts aren’t a luxury – they are actually what makes life worth living in this city,” she said.

Becoming choked up, she then said: “They are a reason to keep going so I’m personally really devastated about that but I know we’ve got to get through and set the budget.”

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The budget proposals have sparked similar expressions of dismay across the city, including from the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in the Midlands.

Birmingham City Council signs off cost cutting budgetBirmingham City Council signs off cost cutting budget
Birmingham City Council signs off cost cutting budget | LDRS

The chair of its Creative and Leisure Industries Committee, Stephen Brown of the Musicians’ Union, accused the council of “dumping its own troubles” onto the cultural heartbeat of the city.

“What message does that send out to the rest of the country about Birmingham, let alone the world?” he said. “Once again, our sector is the easy target for cuts with a savage 50 per cent this year and 100 per cent next year leaving the city’s world class organisations in financial peril.

“Do they not realise that people come to visit Birmingham because of these cultural icons? Do the council want to see a cultural wasteland here?”

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Lee Barron, Midlands TUC Regional Secretary, added: “It’s utterly tragic that some of the best known organisations in the city and who put us on the map are being targeted for 100 per cent cuts.

“It may be hard to imagine now but cuts as harsh as this can set off a chain reaction that is unstoppable. We must pull this situation back from what is a potential brink.”

Asked about the Cultural Organisation Grant reductions last week, council leader John Cotton said it was an emblem of the difficult choices they have to make amid the need to also deliver frontline services to vulnerable people. “In an ideal world I’d prefer not to be in this position but we are having to cut our cloth accordingly,” he said.

"We’ve got lots of investment coming into this city, lots of people locating businesses and jobs here,” he insisted. “I think there’s conversations that we need to have around how we work together as a city as a whole, not just the city council, around protecting and supporting some of our cultural institutions.”

He said those conservations have already started happening and that the council needs to focus on how it works in partnership and collaboration with others as it becomes a “smaller organisation”.

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