Protests as council plans cuts to music and arts service

By Kayleigh Rose Lewis

Thousands of children are expected to be affected by the council’s proposal to cut funding to the Music and Arts Service by 100 percent over the next two years.

Up to 2,500 children use the service every week, of which 500 are considered to be from low-income families.

The incremental reduction would see a 50 percent reduction to funding of the service in 2012/13, increasing to a 100 percent cut in 2013/14.

Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove and Portslade, and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education, said:

“Having been praised nationally for the creative music opportunities for children, it’s outrageous that this service is being cut.”

The service, which is part of the council’s Children’s Services department, provides music and dance lessons to school children in the city.

It is feared that without the council’s subsidy lessons will become too costly for many families, particularly those with low income or several children.

With fewer students having lessons the normal price of music tuition also looked likely to increase, which could potentially affecting many other children who attend lessons, and not just those who are more vulnerable.

Council Grant cuts are part of the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat Government’s attempt to reduce the Country’s financial deficit.

Green Councillor Ruth Buckley said: “We are faced with a short-fall of £17m in the next financial year, and we will have a similar gap to fill in the following year, and most likely much the same in the year following that.”

These figures constitute a 33-40 percent reduction to Brighton and Hove’s council grant of the next three to four years which, according to Green Councillor Alex Phillips, is above average for councils in England and Wales.

She said: “We are making whatever savings we can through reducing management, co-locating services and reducing duplication.

“However Government cuts aren’t based on common sense and mean that even by doing all of these we won’t be able to continue providing all that we have done in the past.”

At the same time that the Council Grant is being cut, the ring-fenced funding for music services provided by central government is also set to shrink by a third, reducing it to £385,470.

Cllr Phillips said: “In Children’s services, sadly we feel we cannot continue the additional funding for the Music Service on top of the usual grant.”

Due to the nature of the Governments far-reaching cuts Brighton and Hove Council published its draft administration budget on 1 December, both earlier and in more detail than previous years.

The intent was to demonstrate how the government intends to deal with the extensive cuts while maintaining services for the most vulnerable.

Jason Kitkat, Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services, said that the budget proposals were published “over two months early as part of our pledge to involve residents as much as possible.”

According the proposals the Music and Arts Service isn’t the only area which would be affected by the Council’s cuts.
Reduced funding for Children’s Services and Adult Social Care may mean that day centres, community care and even childcare training schemes could also lose out.

Meanwhile the price of parking permits, parking fares and Council Tax are going to rise significantly, according to the draft budget proposals.

The Government has already been under-fire in the national media as many believe that they are affecting the services which help those who need them most.

Many of the plans put forward by Brighton and Hove City Council’s budget proposal are likely to affect children, young people, vulnerable adults and the elderly in particular.

If the cuts to the Music and Arts Service go ahead then hundreds of children across the city, particularly those from low-income families, may no longer be able to afford music tuition.

This ‘double-whammy’ of cuts to the service has angered many parents and youngsters. In response Dr Keith Turvey, a senior lecturer and researcher in Education at Brighton University, and a parent, started a petition.

He said: “We believe that an “outstanding” Music and Arts service, such as we have in Brighton and Hove, is an integral part of a comprehensive education for all children in our city.

“We urge the council to reverse this proposed cut that will directly impact on children and young people across the city from all schools.”

The petition has already been signed by more than 3,000 and in accordance with the Council’s petition scheme, which requires a minimum of 1,250 signatures, the issue will have to be officially debated by a full council.

Since then protesters have certainly made themselves heard. On Saturday more than 80 youngsters staged a ‘mass busking’ protest outside Churchill Square, attracting support from onlookers.

While the children and young people played parents distributed leaflets and petitions, explaining the cuts and the implications of them to passers-by.

As well as the current proposed cuts to the service Dr Turvey has also expressed concerns about the future of school funding as more schools become academies.

He said that as more schools opt out of Local Authority control and become academies the council receives less money in its block grant from central government.

Currently some money from this grant goes towards locally pooled services, such as the Music Service. This helps to fund things like Brighton’s Youth Orchestra, which is open to music students from across the city.

Of the issue Cllr Buckley said: “Greens prefer essential services not to be out-sourced, and for schools to remain tied to the state.”

The petition against the Cuts to the Music and Arts Service is due to be presented to the full council on the 26 January.

The Budget Council, in which all 54 members of the council set the budget for the following financial year, will take place on 23 February.

Green Councillor Rob Jarrett said:” The music service was not protected from savings as we didn’t consider it a matter of life or death, others felt differently!”

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