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Bourne Corn Exchange facing reduced opening hours and staff cuts

Campaigners fear a “rushed” review of arts centres could have a devastating impact on visitors and staff.

South Kesteven District Council is considering the future running of Bourne Corn Exchange, along with Stamford Arts Centre and the Guildhall Arts Centre in Grantham.

The news comes hot on the heels of news that South Holland District Council is cutting jobs at the arts centre in Spalding – The South Holland Centre.

Bourne Corn Exchange
Bourne Corn Exchange

Although there are no plans to close any of the venues, opening hours could be reduced and staff could be made redundant.

The proposals follow an independent review by sport, leisure and culture consultancy, which was commissioned in December and carried out while the venues were closed.

District councillor Amanda Wheeler has questioned the accuracy of the report and called for a fairer review. She said: “The review was shoddily done by a sports and leisure consultancy, not arts and culture.

“They hadn’t spoken to everyone they needed to and there was information missing from the report about income from grants, room hire and third party bookings.”

Members of the council’s culture and visitor economy scrutiny committee met on Tuesday to discuss the report. They unanimously opposed the proposals, having only been informed of the review last week.

Cabinet member for culture and visitor economy, Coun Rosemary Trollope-Bellew said: “It is important to make it clear that none of our arts venues are at risk of closure.

“What we are doing is exploring a number of options for ensuring that a vibrant arts and culture programme is not only maintained, but also developed.

“Arts and culture are not statutory services that we have to provide, but South Kesteven District Council has a long history of supporting them in recognition of the contribution they make to the social well-being of the district.”

She said the council’s support for the arts is demonstrated by its level of subsidy, which was £900,000 in the 2019/20 financial year.

Coun Trollope-Bellew said that none of the venues make a profit and each requires considerable financial support. In 2019/20 this amounted to £169,347 at Bourne.

The review identified potential savings and new ways of operating. One option being considered is centralising services such as box offices, marketing and administration.

Another possibility is switching to a different operating model such as a trust with charitable status that could more easily attract grant funding. Coun Wheeler said: “We should be encouraging more people to use the arts centres, but I don’t think cutting staff will help that.

“I want to fight for the services we have. We should be proud that the council has put so much into the arts centres. I appreciate the need to cut costs, but we’re not making the best of the staff we have currently got.”

An online petition has attracted more than 1,200 signatures.

The scrutiny committee will meet again on September 8 when members will make further recommendations for the council’s cabinet to consider on September 14.

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