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Theatre Funding Cuts ‘Demoralising’ and ‘Irresponsible’

Published on: 27 Jan, 2022
Updated on: 28 Jan, 2022

They have just had their funding cut, but Yvonne Arnaud Theatre front of house staff, Ava Robinson, Lucy Warren and Sophie Honeywell are keen to get the message across that it’s business as normal, the shows must go on. Photo: Grahame Larter, Surrey Live

By Emily Coady-Stemp

local democracy reporter

Cuts to council funding for the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre are “demoralising” and “irresponsible”, according to the venue’s director.

Guildford Borough Council’s Executive on Tuesday night (January 25) approved a phased reduction in the theatre’s funding by tens of thousands of pounds a year, from its current £310,220 per year to £200,000 by 2024/25.

Joanna Read, theatre director and CEO

The Guildford theatre’s director and chief executive Joanna Read told the LDRS the cuts come at an “extremely difficult time” for the arts due to Covid, as events and audiences return to pre-pandemic numbers.

She said: “The theatre has just come through the worst period of operation in its history.

“Thanks to the support of our audiences and the immense efforts of our staff, we are now rebuilding our organisation as pandemic restrictions are lifted.

“To receive this cut now, this lack of support, at such a critical time, is deeply demoralising.”

She added that the theatre was projecting a deficit in the coming year of £327k and with the council’s decision this would now increase to £364k.

Saving money

Cllr Joss Bigmore

Council Leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) said in a statement that ongoing reductions in government funding and the impact of the pandemic meant the borough council was facing a substantial deficit in coming years.

He added that the borough council itself had identified £8 million worth of savings internally, including streamlining its workforce by 100 roles.

Ms Read said the theatre had made changes to save money over the last financial year including moving to volunteer ushers, reviewing core overhead costs, re-tendering contracts to improve value for money and cutting all non-essential expenditure.

She pointed out that many people who visit the theatre would not have otherwise been coming to Guildford, and she thanked councillors who had spoken up in support of the theatre.

She said: “We would like to thank those councillors who spoke of the town’s love and value of the theatre, and who understand its immeasurable value to our communities.

“We look forward to urgent discussions with the council on how to mitigate or amend this unilateral decision.”

‘Irresponsible’ timing

At Tuesday’s Executive meeting, the council leader pointed to the more than £1 million received by the theatre in emergency Covid grants.

Ms Read said: “These were one-off emergency grants used to pay wages and core overheads during the closure periods of the last two years, and losses directly related to Covid.

“The grants are not ongoing and will not compensate for Guildford Borough Council’s decision last night.

“We are very surprised that no mention has been made by the council of the three-year rolling funding agreement the theatre has in place.

“We had expected any potential cut to be instigated in a manner that might enable us to plan accordingly.

“To ignore this agreement and unilaterally announce a cut just weeks away from a new financial year is irresponsible.”

‘We have had to make difficult decisions’

Cllr Bigmore said in a statement: “Our residents know these are challenging times for local authorities.

“It’s forced us to reconsider all spending and we’ve put in place a saving strategy. We have not asked any of our partners to do anything we haven’t already done ourselves.

“While we wholly support and value the importance of our borough’s brilliant arts and culture sector as part of what makes Guildford not only great but unique, we have had to make difficult decisions.

“This includes the Executive decision last night to reduce – not completely cut – our annual grant to the Yvonne Arnaud over the next three years from a substantial £310k to a still sizeable £200k which gives them time to plan ahead.

“We have also provided them other support over the years, for example the Mill Studio at a reduced rent, and we support their new community event booking system ‘Other Places’ which since our own booking system closed we recommend all of our borough’s event promoters use.”

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