The leader of Newcastle City Council has reacted angrily to claims that shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman secured a rethink on plans to wipeout funding for independent art providers in the city.
Nick Forbes (Lab), who is expected to unveil final budget plans on Friday, said any interference by Labour party politicians in local decision making would be “unacceptable”.
Newcastle unveiled its draft budget last month and provoked a storm of fury as it was revealed it intended to cut 100% of funding to independent cultural venues including Northern Stage and Theatre Royal, halving museum grants and reducing its library service by 60%.
However, the Guardian reported on Tuesday this week that Ms Harman had “persuaded Forbes not to set a damaging precedent”.
The paper quoted Ms Harman: “The reality is there is not going to be a 100% cut to the arts in Newcastle. I can’t give you the nitty-gritty: it’s a bleaker picture than it has been - that’s inevitable because of what the government’s doing. But they will not be cutting 100%.”
The contents of Friday’s finalised budget is not known, but sources suggested the proposed arts cuts may have been amended and labelled Ms Harman’s intervention as “a shameless attempt to grab the credit”.
Cllr Forbes refused to be drawn on the contents of Friday’s budget and plans for arts funding, but said: “Given Ed Miliband’s strong commitment to localism it would be completely unacceptable for a shadow cabinet minister to try to instruct council on what to do and what not to do.
“Councils are dealing with incredibly difficult funding decisions as a result of government funding cuts. There are many services at risk such as Sure Start, older person’s residential care and libraries and money cannot just be magicked out of thin air to save them.”
LGA Labour group leader David Sparks told LGC the situation faced by councils was “unprecedented” and each authority had to decide for itself how to address the funding cuts in the best interests of the community.
“Nick Forbes is a chorister - he actively participates in the arts, he is not a philistine. For someone like him to have to cut back on arts expenditure, the position has to be desperate.”
He added: “What amazes me about the cuts crisis that we are in is that at one end of the country Newcastle is being lambasted for cutting back on the arts whilst [communities secretary Eric] Pickles is berating Birmingham to sell off the concert hall, International Conference Centre and all the jewels in their arts provision. The situation is crazy.”