Music services in East Sussex could soon be run by a private contractor, after proposals were approved in principle this week.
On Monday (June 3), Cllr Bob Standley, East Sussex County Council’s lead member for education, backed proposals to award Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival (BDBF) with a contract to run the county’s music service.
While he said further due diligence would necessary before any final agreement, Cllr Standley described the decision as a ‘significant stepping stone’.
Cllr Standley said: “I know a lot of hard work has gone into this and this is an opportunity that wasn’t available when we looked at it [last year].
“It has come out of a fairly traumatic decision where we said we might have had to close it.”
He added: “I think overall this strengthens the service, rather than taking away from it.”
By awarding the contract to BDBF – a registered charity which already provides a music service on behalf of Brighton and Hove City Council – the council hopes to avoid closing its instrumental teaching service.
The council had considered closing this part of the music service last year, but its plans were scaled back following a public consultation.
The proposed cuts had proven to be deeply unpopular, with more than 12,000 East Sussex residents signing a petition against them.
Concerns, however, were raised during the meeting by Liberal Democrat councillor Alan Shuttleworth (Eastbourne – Langney).
Cllr Shuttleworth: “All of us, certainly from my group’s perspective, would rather the music service being run by the local authority, which I think is the right way round in terms of sustainability going forward.
“I’m obviously absolutely aware of the financial pressures we are under at the moment, but if you commission this service out to another provider none of us can second guess quite how that will turn out.
“There is nothing wrong with BDBF. They are a charitable organisation, they are obviously successful and I hope they continue to be successful.
“But there are over 3,000 children and young people who depend on the service at the moment.”
Cllr Shuttleworth asked for details about what a commissioning BDBF would mean for the service – particularly how it would affect staff and the fees charged for tuition.
In response, officers said the council would be commissioning the service and therefore would have some say in how it operates through the contract.
This would include a requirement for any increases in tuition fees to be agreed by the council.
Officers also said the council had ‘made it very clear’ it would expect BDBF to continue all of the current front line services and, as a result, does not expect there to be any job losses for music teachers.
However, officers said, there may be some job losses among administration and management staff, as these roles would be shared with Brighton and Hove’s music service.
Cllr Shuttleworth’s comments, however, drew some criticism from Cllr Standley.
Cllr Standley said: “You can’t take ownership of taking it seriously. We all take it very seriously, which is why we have spent some considerable time looking at solutions.
“It is not just your group that takes it seriously.”
BDBF is expected to take over the service through a concession contract. This means the contractor would draw its pay from the service, rather than a direct payment from the council.
According to council papers, the service provides an income of around £1.7m per annum from fees and grant funding.