The ongoing budget cuts being made by the Labour in Newport run City Council run the risk of doing some pretty long term damage across the city, with potential loss of jobs at the council, the loss of the in schools music programme, the reduction in sports facilities and the loss of the popular superdragons programme to name but a few. This is only the beginning as a result of Labour in Newport City Councils latest budget cuts - the Newport Art Gallery Temporary Exhibitions Programme has been scrapped. The latest budget cuts as approved by Labour Cabinet members will see the gallery lose the programme in its entirety as a public service with an approximate cost saving of around £40,000 per year.
The Temporary Exhibitions Programme offered the Council long term strategic potential, high profile and high quality public programmes. It should be a showcase for cultural programming that benefits the city and brought in significant additional Arts Council of Wales funding and investment. Had the programme survived then it would have greatly enhanced the development of a new Newport County Council cultural strategy. The decision to cut the programme appears to have been based on a simple cost saving rather than strategic thought.
This was the only artistic programme in the art gallery (which still has fixed displays of objects and art from the museum collection). Back in August the newly refurbished spaces launched an exhibition of paintings by Geraint Evans, as late as October the Llew Smith radical Christmas card exhibition (no doubt this was Labour in Newport approved culture) was opened. These exhibitions brought in new and repeat visitors to the art gallery, and museum and generated positive publicity and public interest. The plan (such as it is) is for the Temporary Exhibitions Programme to be replaced with a single static exhibition drawn from the permanent collections (and no further programming thereafter).
The Temporary Exhibitions Programme was a city centre attraction (they even ran an exhibition on the Newport County’s 100th anniversary) which brought much needed visitors to the centre of Newport. It enjoyed sustained success and maintained visitor levels in recent years – and it also tapped into funding from Arts Council of Wales. Ironically 2013, was planned (pre-cut) to be a very high profile year with 14 planned exhibitions (double the previous number despite a smaller budget).
Now our Art Gallery, if rumours are to be believed, may close entirely within a year – Labour in Newport’s self justifying logic may run along the lines of there is no point in maintaining a Temporary Exhibition Programme if there won’t be a galley! Yet artistic programming, in theatres, arts centres, galleries and museums can play an important part in developing a healthy and sustainable culture.
More recent budget cuts along with the proposed new budget cut have been developed without any consultation, being entirely a local management decision. As a result of two recent Museums and Heritage restructures the city’s museums and heritage service has been left with a vastly reduced portfolio - Tredegar House is now run by the National Trust (this was a sensible decision as to avoid a well loved asset being run into the ground) and our transporter bridge has become a seasonal project. Staff reductions at both the Museum and Art Gallery and The Medieval Ship Project have taken place with the loss of a number of non-managerial jobs.
The Labour in Newport City Council never put this and countless other proposals for budget cuts out for consultation as it is writ the Labour in Newport ruling group rubber stamp will follow on the 26th February 2013. The Labour in Newport ruling group has almost entirely without any public knowledge (save for the valiant efforts of the South Wales Argus and campaigners) or consultation rolled through a series of severe budget cuts.
Little more than lip service to any real form of public consultation has been paid; as while asking on-line for comments on the budget no details of the actually budget can actually be obtained. It’s pretty clear that Labour in Newport don’t do culture or consultation...but they definitely do cuts. Quite how the cuts will be spun to the public by a certain ambitious Labour City Cabinet member seeking to replace Paul Flynn as MP (for Newport West) next time remains to be seen.