Birmingham Artists funding – City Council responds.

Further to the Birmingham Artists funding issue I’ve received a statement from Birmingham City Council.

“Over a year ago Birmingham City Council staff met with representatives from Birmingham Artists and explained that we may not always be in a position to keep on funding their rent and service charges, which in 2006/07 came to £55,600. Unfortunately, following a re-valuation of the building they lease (which was required by law), the rent was increased from £27,900 to £50,000 with further increases planned to the associated services charges. The group was made aware of this change in November 2006 through a Section 25 Notice which they then acknowledged with a letter. Due to limited budgets, which already provide £9.5m to be spent on arts across Birmingham every year, the City Council cannot maintain this level of funding. However, officers will continue to meet with the group to look at other funding options and alternative business models and we have made provision for a month’s extension to the current lease to allow extra time for them to work on this.”

As I understand it when the notification of the rent increase was given it was not made clear that the increase would not be covered by the funding since this came from another department, which might explain why Birmingham Artists felt they had no warning about this. I suspect when it comes to giving notice the fault lies with inter-department communication.

Regarding the question of whether the council will continue to support Birmingham Artists in the future – discounting rent they were receiving £27,700 (although a lot of this would have gone on “service charges”) – I understand they are guaranteed £10,000 for 07/08. Obviously this isn’t going to cover the rent of a new building and so on but it is support. I also understand they’ll be helping them find funding from other sources

As is so often the case in these matter I think a lot of this is down to holes in the bureaucracy and poor liaising between the council and the society, but there are still some questions. The main one is why the council doesn’t think BA is worth what amounts to 0.8% of their budget. Is 0.8% a lot? I’m not sure.

Another is about the notion of property values in the city centre. I believe it’s the policy of Birmingham City Council, through the regeneration program, to increase property values as an indicator of success. For example, one of the reasons for rebuilding New St Station is to connect the area around Hill St to New St, thus increasing the value of the former. Birmingham Artists are currently based near the Mailbox, an area that was a bit of a shithole a few years ago but is undergoing extensive regeneration so it’s no surprise the rent has increased. It shouldn’t have been a surprise to BA and it certainly shouldn’t have been a surprise to the council. You’d hope that organisations that receive a significant amount of council support would be taken into account when planning these areas. It’s really not enough to blame a sudden rent increase on a compulsory re-vauation when the council, through its regeneration policies, is directly responsible for it.

The logical solution would be for BA to move to an area with lower rents. Digbeth, for example. Though plans to do so should really have been put in motion back in November. Of course, this is assuming the rents don’t increase in Digbeth once the regeneration kicks off there…

Emma Needle at BCC (who seems a very nice person) is aware of this post so any questions or points you want to make in the comments will presumably be seen by her.