Fringe Box



Millmead Views: Orchestra Great – But We Haven’t Got The Money

Published on: 24 Sep, 2012
Updated on: 24 Sep, 2012

An occasional column written by our local GBC councillors…

By Richard Billington 

Conservative Councillor for Tillingbourne Ward

So now the nights are drawing in and we approach the season of ‘mists and mellow fruitfulness’. All I know is that during the longer summer evenings I used to be able to gaze out of the window during lengthy council meetings. Now with darkness outside I am forced to give my whole attention to the proceedings of the council and the meetings I attend.

Thus it was that last week. I was in our Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee and found the chair next to me occupied by Mr Julian Lyon. He is a transparently decent bloke who clearly loves all things Guildford and especially the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra. To say this orchestra is a source of much civic pride is an understatement. For many it is one of the defining status symbols of Guildford, showing the town’s supremacy above other less salubrious areas.

But the trouble with icons is that they come at a price. £190,000 per annum, to be exact, for this one. And here lies the dilemma that the town, and therefore the councillors like me, have to face-up to. For Guildford’s council budget, the buck stops with us at Millmead House. No matter how worthy the cause, it has to be judged, not in emotion or aesthetics, but sheer hard cash.

What else could we do with the thick end of two hundred thousand pounds? Well let me take you to an earlier part of my week, a briefing by the council’s financial gurus on the changes to the government’s contribution to the council tax benefit system. I’ll spare you the details; save the important one, it’s going to be cut.

In other words, there are people in our borough who are going to be told: “Tough, you aren’t getting any.” This ran through my head as I recalled the previous month helping to get a young couple and their two year old accommodated in something more permanent than the damp mobile home they were living in.

On one level Guildford is a rich, prosperous county town. On another, it is a place of poverty and need. We have many calls on your taxes, that we as your elected councillors have to administer. Housing is a major one. We face so many challenges to house the many people in social need of one kind or another, can we really afford to hand out your money to an orchestra that with the best will in the world has to be considered a minority interest group?

Could I really look to that young couple and say “Sorry no help for you, but the Guildford Philharmonic are doing a great concert just down the road……”

Judgement of Solomon anyone?

Click here to see Julian Lyon’s opinion piece: ‘The Demise of The Guildford Philharmonic Strikes An Undemocratic Note’

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