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Letter to Frome Times, w/c 12th March 2012

by adamboyden on 16 March, 2012

I was pleased to see this newspaper cover the Mendip District Council meeting which discussed budgets and medium term resource strategy, in the last issue. I and other Lib Dem councillors in Frome would like to challenge the statement made by Cllr Stephen Priscott, in which he is quoted, at the end of your piece, as saying that Lib Dem councillors did not indicate where the money we proposed for an arts strategy (£50,000) would come from, and that he would have to raise Council Tax by 1% to accommodate our proposal.  Both these points are highly misleading.
 
Cllr Richard Pinnock stated in his speech that we would use the Council’s ample reserves for this additional expenditure.  The Council’s own figures, in the financial papers (Appendix A to item 12 of the meeting papers) clearly show that the Council’s projected reserves will be over £2,005,000 by the end of the financial year (2013). This is over £600,000 more than the recommended level of reserves (£1.2 – 1.4 million).  So the money is there.
 
Before and during the meeting, the Council’s Finance Officer was asked whether he would object to this additional spending. He did not, as it was possible to do restore an arts budget without any increase in Council Tax, because there are more than ample reserves.
 
We believe that restoring the arts grant funding adds to the well being of the District. There has also been quite a bit of pressure from the creative sector over the damage that the sudden and total cuts to arts grants in 2011 from both Somerset and Mendip councils have made. I am pleased to see project grants are still made, to projects such as the recent Creative Frome Festival. But venues like the Merlin Theatre, Black Swan Arts and Strode Theatre were hit hard by the abolition of their council grants, and have had to make redundancies and rely on volunteers to survive so far.  If we lose these venues, our towns and district and county will be much the poorer. Readers should be aware that the continued refusal by Mendip to support our arts venues is a political choice by the ruling Conservatives; it is not a financial necessity.
Adam Boyden
Lib Dem Mendip District Councillor, Frome College ward
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