MORAY Council’s decision to slash its entire arts budget has sparked outrage from the industry.
Critics have branded the authority as “short-sighted” for cutting annual funding of £79,000 for the sector.
“It is a sad day,” said local sculptor Mary Bourne, who has turned to Moray Arts Development for “invaluable” support over the past 25 years.
However, the authority said that during budget consultations, the arts were consistently ranked as “bottom of the list”.
Council leader Allan Wright said he was “fully supportive of the arts”, but cash backing was no longer an option in the face of crippling financial pressure. It is understood Moray is the first local authority to pull arts funding completely.
The annual bill is made up of £8,000 in grants; £8,000 to North East Arts Touring (NEAT); and £63,000 for promoting arts – including the post of an arts development worker.
Arts professionals said the move would have an impact on the area’s economy.
“The loss in terms of external grants levered into Moray will be far, far greater than the money saved, and the likelihood is that those active members of the arts communities responsible for making things happen here will move elsewhere where they can expect some support," said Ms Bourne.
As the budget was debated, SNP Councillor Gary Coull called for a reprieve for a sector already beleaguered by cuts. And Robert Livingston, director of HI-Arts, branded the decision as “dismal”.
He said: “I think it is incredibly short-sighted, because what the arts team achieved in Moray in the last 10 years was extraordinary work, particularly with young people at risk of offending and at risk of anti-social behaviour. If you are talking economics, the economic return in terms of that kind of work far outweighs the cost of a small arts budget.” The arts play an important role in boosting tourism and making Moray an attractive place to live and work, he argued.
A council spokesman said that wide-spread consultation had taken place over a three-month period. “In response to the criticism over the cutting of arts development, support for the arts was at the bottom of people’s lists when it came to deciding what they could tolerate cutting,” he said.
“A total of 33 arts groups in Moray were emailed with details of the consultation, with dates and times and how they could take part. However, none responded directly, and as far as we can establish, a maximum of four people representing arts groups attended workshops held as part of the consultation process.”
Councillor Wright said he recognised the decision would be unpopular, but said that locals would need to have been “living in a bubble” not to have known the seriousness of the financial situation the authority faced.
“The administration has taken the view – which we feel is supported by the general public locally through this consultation – that the council’s priorities must be care for the elderly; education, and social services for the most vulnerable in our society. With the level of budget reduction we have to deliver, we are never going to please everybody; indeed, many will be upset at what services are being reduced or cut as a result of the budget we have to deliver.”
He welcomed an invitation from Creative Scotland to work with them and other agencies to help groups access funding for Moray projects.