Moray council urged not to axe entire arts budget

THE Scottish Government has urged a local authority to reverse a controversial decision to call a halt to any future funding of the arts.

Ministers are thought to be furious at the move by Moray Council because of the SNP’s decision to protect spending on cultural infrastructure, despite budget cuts elsewhere.

The fresh blow for the arts industry has been confirmed just weeks after it emerged one of Scotland’s main regional theatres - the Byre in St Andrews - was having to close its doors after going into liquidation.

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The decision, part of £30 million worth of savings which have been voted through by councillors, will only save up to £94,000 a year for the next three years.

But the cuts, which have sparked a furious online reaction, will mean the council will no longer have a full-time arts development officer.

The independent-Tory council insisted the decision - which also affects grants for local arts organisations - had the backing of the public and had been made based on “what people said they were prepared to live without.”

But it is understood to be the first local authority in Scotland to completely withdraw backing for the arts and culture.

A spokeswoman for Alex Salmond’s administration said: “The Scottish Government views and values culture and the arts as of key importance to Scotland.

“That is why, despite deep cuts imposed by the UK Government, the Scottish Government‘s budget for next year will see the current expenditure for culture increase and the capital budget for culture almost double from what was set out in the 2011 spending review.

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“Councils are autonomous bodies, responsible for managing their own day to day business and answerable to their electorates. We would, however, hope they would revisit and reassess this disappointing decision.”

Moray MP Angus Robertson added that the arts community was correct to attack the “horrific” plans by the council to slash its entire arts budget.

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Robert Livingston, director of the Highlands & Islands Arts (Hi-Arts) organisation, said: “Moray Council was one of the last in Scotland to establish a dedicated arts post.

“Yet in the past decade that officer, Nick Fearne, and the arts team whose posts have already been cut, have had a transformative impact on the county, from sell-out projects with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland, through employing artists to transform the dining halls of almost every primary school in Moray, to remarkable work with young people at risk of offending.

“There could hardly be a better or more tangible return on such a modest investment.”

Kresanna Aigner, director of the Findhorn Bay Arts Festival, said: “It’s the final nail in the coffin in a situation that has got worse and worse over the last three years.

“It sets the arts sector adrift – it impacts on the entire arts infrastructure.”

However council leader Allan Wright said: “At every meeting, survey and response we had as part of this extensive consultation, arts, I’m afraid, came bottom of the list for Moray residents.

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“We have to find unprecedented savings, and what we have produced in this budget reflects what people have told us; they would prefer to maintain funding for the elderly, education and other key services at the expense of arts.

“I understand this is not a popular move for some in the sector but we have to live within our means at this difficult time.”