‘Cut arts’ is the message from local residents

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ART and culture were the big losers in the survey to find out where local residents think the council can save money.

Hastings Borough Council (HBC) wrote to every household in town as part of The Big Conversation and held a series of public meetings to find out which services the public felt were the highest and lowest priorities ahead of Government cuts to its budget.

And despite the Jerwood Gallery and the much-trumpeted cultural regeneration strategy (CRS) which talked of a Hastings Renaissance putting art at the centre of the town’s future, the people of Hastings and St Leonards have given cultural services – which cost the taxpayer more than £1million a year – short shrift.

The Big Conversation questionnaire asked people to say whether they wanted funding for 33 areas of council activity stopped, reduced or kept the same.

The top five areas where people want to see spending maintained are keeping the town clean, crime reduction schemes, free public toilets, providing parks and playing fields and tackling dog fouling and litter.

Subsidising the White Rock Theatre, St-Mary-in-the-Castle and encouraging arts all fell in the top five areas where people wanted funding stopped, along with subsidising charities and sports clubs and employing enviro-crime wardens. Running the town’s museums was the top area respondents said they wanted to see spending reduced, along with constant CCTV monitoring of the town centre, providing allotments and decorative lighting.

Cllr Jay Kramer, deputy leader of HBC who oversaw the project said: “Residents are saying the want to keep the town clean and safe.”

She insisted the £17,000 project was value for money, with 2,409 surveys returned as well as consultations with hundreds of local businesses. And she said she was not surprised arts and culture fell down in the survey. “They were going to be lower than those things which affect people’s quality of life but we have to balance that with the Jerwood and the CRS. This will inform our budget but this was not a referendum so we are not just going to say we will fund the top five things and not the bottom five.”

Ion Castro, who spent many years working in public arts funding and who is part the Save our Stade (SOS) group which has long campaigned against the Jerwood, said the results were clear. “Art can help regenerate a town but it is not the universal panacea. This survey backs up what we have been saying for a long time. The comedian Billy Connelly does a routine about the Scottish philanthropist Carnegie where he says, ‘There were thousands of people starving and he built libraries.’ I cannot help making a comparison.

“We are not Luddites but it may be more helpful to have jobs, decent housing, decent links to London,” he added.

The Jerwood Galley is not being funded by the taxpayer but it is being granted rate relief which SOS estimates will run to £70,000 a year.

HBC expects to find out exactly how much money it will lose in the next few weeks and will meet to set the budget in February.