A COUNCIL that is eyeing to axe its funding to the arts has been accused of already being the lowest spender on culture in Berkshire.

A petition, which has garnered nearly 4,000 signatures, has been making the rounds, urging the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council to U-turn its potential decision to cut off its “essential” funding to art centres Norden Farm and The Old Court.

Both art spaces have spoken to the Observer, expressing their concerns they could struggle in a post-Covid environment if core funding is withdrawn.

Previously, council leader Andrew Johnson (Con: Hurley & Waltham) said an independent external consultant is reviewing Norden Farm to see what measures it can take to be fully ‘self-financing’ after it was ‘made clear’ to the centres the council would cease its funding.

READ MORE: Maidenhead: Boyn Hill councillors speak out over Norden Farm

The petition was set up and driven by the Public Campaign for the Arts, which protects UK culture from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

On the campaign page, it states the council’s funding of all cultural services – including public libraries, entertainment venues, etc – has fallen over the years, making it one of the lowest spenders on the arts.

It states: “Where previously the council’s investment was above average, at £134 per person per year, it has fallen significantly below average, to just £41 per person per year in 2020-21.”

Royal Borough Observer: RBWM is one of the lowest spenders in Berkshire, according to the campaigner's dataRBWM is one of the lowest spenders in Berkshire, according to the campaigner's data

The council leader said Norden Farm has been given £80,000 this financial year, whereas in previous years, it has been provided £100,000 in 2018/19, £158,000 in 2019/20, and £141,000 in 2020/21.

Cllr Johnson said: “Due to tight budgetary constraints, it was made clear that last year the venue would receive a reduced grant and in 2022/23 grant funding would cease. This decision was made by full council in February 2021 as part of the budget-setting process.

“Meetings have been held with Norden Farm to discuss its business plans and future operating model and the council will continue to work with the venue to explore options to secure its future viability.”

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Jack Gamble, the Director of the Public Campaign for the Arts, said it was “shocking” and “rare” for a council to totally abolish its arts funding.

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Mr Gamble said: “Organisations like Norden Farm need more than advice, they need concrete financial support.

“If the council leader is saying ‘well, we have supported them over the years and therefore we care,’ I’m not sure that we can read into the fact that his proposal is not to support them financially.

“Should we take from that, that they [the council] don’t care? I think if they care, then they need to put their money where their mouth is on that and actually continue to fund the arts.”

He also said if the council needs to make cuts, then it should “proportionate” rather than totally abolish the arts funding.

Royal Borough Observer: Norden Farm - the Courtyeard theatreNorden Farm - the Courtyeard theatre

Mr Gamble criticised the council’s idea of a lottery fund for Norden Farm, The Old Court, and other community organisations and groups, believing the funds are “totally insufficient” and the arts should be a service the council provides.

A final decision on the arts will depend on the outcome of the consultant’s “imminent” review and the budget consultation, which residents have until January 31 to have their say. The consultation can be found here https://rbwmtogether.rbwm.gov.uk/budget-consultation.

However, warnings were made if the council goes ahead and withdraw its funding, the Public Campaign for the Arts will “continue to make life difficult” for the Royal Borough.