BAC Faces Closure After Cuts to Council FundingDate: 19 January 2007
South London’s Fringe powerhouse Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) is threatened with closure after Wandsworth Borough Council (WBC) has decided to cut off all funding to the centre and charge rent for use of the building. The council says this is due to the fact that the government’s 2007 financial allocation for the borough is far lower than inflation, leaving WBC with a deficit of £5 million.
WBC’s previous grant to BAC was £100,000 per annum, which is being cut to nothing with effect from April 1 2007. The council also announced last week it would charge the organisation over £270,000 annually in rent and running costs from May 2007. BAC has launched petitions to the council and the government, but if the cuts stand, the centre will be forced to close unless an alternative income can be found.
The threat to BAC was raised in the House of Commons on Wednesday (17 January 2007) with a question to Tony Blair, to which the Prime Minister responded: “Battersea Arts Centre does a fantastic job. They should do everything they can to keep it open. It should be kept open.”
BAC, which won the Best Community Contribution Award at Wandsworth Council’s Business Awards 2006, is one of the country’s leading arts organisations and attracts 220,000 visitors each year. The venue launched Jerry Springer - The Opera, and has helped develop the careers of a range of performer and companies, including French & Saunders, Cheek By Jowl, Complicite, Kneehigh Theatre, the League of Gentlemen, Faulty Optic, DV8 and the Right Size.
BAC is seeking a meeting with Wandsworth Borough Council to ask them to reconsider the value of BAC to the Borough, while local Wandsowrth people are writing to their local councillors to express their dismay at the proposed cuts.
Council spokesman Steve Mayner said: “Wandsworth is facing a £5 million shortfall for the coming year in the money it receives from central government, following a below-inflation grant settlement. The council’s increase of 2.7 percent was the lowest amount possible. In key services like social and residential care, costs are actually rising by as much as six and seven percent a year – far above the headline inflation figure. Because the grant has to cover all services – excluding schools – the council is having to reduce costs across the board. As part of this process, the council has warned Battersea Arts Centre that its current level of support cannot be sustained.”
He added: “We do think BAC is a very, very good arts centre, and we have supported it for 25 years. We do not want to see it close, but it would be extremely difficult for us to justify cutting funding for the elderly or children.”
- by Caroline Ansdell