“What a mistake to make!”
Those are not my words. They were uttered by BBC Radio Shropshire’s Eric Smith yesterday morning (listen). He was talking about grants given by Shropshire Council to community arts groups around the county.
The arts grant scheme was quietly abolished by the council a few weeks ago without any public announcement. After a huge fuss by arts organisations and councillors, the council promised a rethink. That about-turn meant that the arts portfolio holder, Steve Charmley, was given an easy ride when Shropshire Council considered his annual report at its meeting on 24 September. It turns out that report was wrong.
In 2014/15 Shropshire Council paid out £65,000 in Arts Grants. Councillor Charmley had said this brought in only £100,000 in matching funds. That’s not much to be honest. And it proved to be wrong by a factor of ten. My colleague, Roger Evans got finance officers to supply the correct data. Arts organisations were able to actually lever in a further £996,000 – nearly a million pounds with a seed corn using the £65,000 in grants from Shropshire Council. That’s why Eric Smith was so incredulous.
Steve Charmley didn’t want to be interviewed for the breakfast programme but issued a statement admitting the numbers were wrong. He’ll publish a correction for the next council meeting on 17 December.
(Listen to the full interview with myself, Sian Kerry from Arts Alive and Charmley’s statement.)
We can’t rest on our laurels. We need to keep pressure on the council to reinstate the arts grant. The arts community has launched an online petition “Stop the Shropshire Arts cuts”. A thousand signatures will trigger a debate on the cuts at the council meeting on 17 December. So please sign the petition and share it as widely as possible.
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