Concerns over Chichester Festival Theatre

Lack of information about the likely impact of a massive cut in financial support for Chichester Festival Theatre proposed by West Sussex County Council has provoked serious concerns.

Members of the community services select committee said they were being asked to consider a reduction without knowing what the effect would be on the theatre itself and on the West Sussex economy.

The county council is considering a proposal to reduce its annual grant to the theatre from £216,851 to £80,000 from 2011-12.

“We don’t understand the implications of the cut, and how this can be mitigated against, bearing in mind the value of the theatre,” said chairman Cllr Pat Arculus.

And Cllr David Simmons said they were looking at the possibility of losing quite a large tranche of jobs if they got this wrong.

The theatre also received £250,000 from Chichester District Council and £1.6m from the Arts Council in the current financial year.

A big reduction is also proposed for the coming year in the budget for the county arts service, down to £132,000 in 2011-12, from £220,000, with redundancies predicted. A further cut is also proposed.

The select committee was told an impact study in 2008 showed the theatre’s value to the West Sussex economy was £12.2m – plus 370 full-time equivalent jobs.

Cllr Steve Waight said although members were told the grant would be reduced to £80,000, he did not know what this would mean in practice. “What is the impact of that reduction?” he demanded.

Members were being asked to agree a reduction without knowing the impact. They were just being told the impact was currently being discussed with the theatre and the Arts Council.

“I would have expected the county council to have discussed a range of reductions in grant for CFT, and then made a decision on the service provision it would expect to be delivered,” he added.

He could not support or oppose the reduction because he did not know what the effect would be – and it was clear the officers and the cabinet members did not know either. “This applies to a whole range of issues,” said Cllr Waight

Cllr Simmons said the theatre was a flagship for the arts, and of considerable importance .

“So much of what it provides has a knock-on effect for the community and on the local economy, and I am not sure we have enough information,” he added.

The county council will make a final decision at its budget meeting next month.