Theresa May’s local council drops plan to abolish arts funding

<span>Photograph: Geoffrey Swaine/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Geoffrey Swaine/Rex/Shutterstock

Windsor and Maidenhead council ditches proposal after outcry from residents and objections from ex-PM

Windsor and Maidenhead council has ditched a plan to abolish arts funding after an outcry from residents and objections from the former prime minister Theresa May, the local MP.

Instead of cutting funds to an arts centre and theatre to zero – a move that both organisations said would threaten their existence – the council has agreed a 17% increase in the next financial year.

The comedians Russell Brand, Mark Watson, Rachel Parris, Stephen K Amos and Alfie Moore also supported the campaign against the funding cut.

May said: “It is extremely welcome that the [council has] listened to the strength of local feeling … The arts play such an important role nationwide, helping to enrich our communities and expand our intellectual horizons.”

The Norden Farm Centre for the Arts in Maidenhead and the Old Court theatre in Windsor are now set to receive £140,000 in the next financial year.

A consultation launched by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) on its budget proposals resulted in 1,800 submissions from residents, community groups and businesses.

“Investing in arts and culture was identified clearly as one of people’s key budget priorities,” a council statement said.

Andrew Johnson, the council leader, said: “Taking onboard the community’s strength of feeling around arts funding … we amended the proposed budget.”

Spending by English councils on cultural services has fallen from £118.93 per person in 2009-10 to £59.90 in 2020-21 – a cut of 50%. Councils are in the process of setting budgets for 2022-23 amid concern about the impact of further cuts in a sector that was badly hit by the Covid pandemic.

Councils in England help fund a range of local cultural organisations, including 3,000 libraries, 350 museums, 116 theatres, plus castles, amusement parks, monuments, historic buildings and heritage sites.

​​Jack Gamble, the director of the Public Campaign for the Arts, which organised opposition to the proposed cuts in Windsor and Maidenhead, said: “This remarkable turnaround is the result of people joining together to champion the value of art and culture in our lives and communities.”

Norden Farm, which has a 220-seat theatre and organises a range of community activities, said continued council funding was essential to keep the centre open. It had already taken steps to reduce costs and increase income.

Jane Corry, the centre’s artistic director and chief executive, said: “We could not be more delighted about the decision last night from RBWM … We are so very grateful to our amazing supporters for showing such love and determination to get sustained arts funding returned, and to the council for showing how much they value the arts.”