Shock over Fringe Festival grant cut
One of the most generous business benefactors in Bath has attacked a council decision to axe funding for the city’s Fringe Festival.
The annual arts extravaganza, which is due to start in little more than two months’ time, is likely to have to be scaled down unless more sponsorship can be found to replace the £15,000 withdrawn by Bath and North East Somerset Council.
The council said the festival organisers had not provided the right financial information.
But businessman Brian Roper, whose charitable trust puts its own £15,000 grant into the Fringe every year, said B&NES appeared to be looking for an excuse to take away the grant due to be paid next month.
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The council says it will now spend the money on “another community arts project”, which it is understood will be in October, and in north east Somerset rather than in Bath.
Mr Roper - founder of the bathroom firm Roper Rhodes - funds projects from the Golden-Oldies charity through the Earth from the Air exhibition to the Mission Theatre through the Roper Family Charitable Trust.
He said the council had “snookered” the festival.
“Because they are short of money, they have pinched the money from Fringe Festival and diverted it, then constructed a series of supposed reasons why the Fringe hasn’t got the money.
“I think what they have done is laudable in the sense that arts spending outside of Bath is a good idea.
“But to pinch it from the Fringe Festival is an extraordinarily bad idea.”
He said he thought the Fringe organisers - two part-time staff - had done everything asked of them by B&NES and that the council was now “nitpicking.”
“The Fringe Festival to me seems to offer extraordinary good value for money.”
Mr Roper said he regarded the council as a “bad funder” run by politicians who appeared not to be interested in the arts.
He said he had “wondered from time to time” whether the council had decided against funding some projects because they knew he and other business sponsors were likely to wade in with money.
Fringe chair Nicole O’Flaherty, who is a former arts and culture executive member on the council, said help was now urgently needed.
“I’m very disappointed that a festival which, in my view, attracts a number of people who don’t go to other festivals, has been affected like this.”
The Fringe attracted 27,000 people to its events last year, and will this year run from May 28 - June 13.
Mrs O’Flaherty said: “The Fringe brings in younger people and brings spontaneity and different life into the city.”
She said the festival was committed to bringing its Spiegeltent venue to the city and would try to regain council funding in the future.
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In his last annual report before he handed over to Mrs O’Flaherty last year, her predecessor as chair John Wood had urged his colleagues to find more non-council funding.
He wrote: “Though it should be noted that there are a number of people within the B&NES organisation who are very supporting and helpful to the Fringe, I have found it very hard, as we all have, to cope with the huge difficulties caused by the see-sawing attitude of B&NES arts officers toward The Fringe over the last two years and more; and their apparent failure to show any appreciation of the contribution the Fringe makes to the life of the city, or the work that goes into doing that.
“The constant changes of tack in their approach to the funding and organisational requirements of the Fringe have caused enormous amounts of extra and largely unproductive work for the committee and the hard-pressed and underpaid staff.
“My feeling now is that for the Fringe to move forward, we need to look creatively at finding independent ways of funding the festival. It is my fervent hope that the Fringe will in future be in a position to find more sources of income that do not involve this level of bureaucratic drudgery, and will be able to concentrate its energies on what it does best, i.e. mount a wide-ranging, diverse and stimulating arts festival - something bureaucrats rarely achieve.”
The Fringe is one of the 70 members of the Bath Area Cultural Forum and director Martin Pople said he was disappointed to see the organisation losing funding.
He said he would have been worried to have seen the money disappear from the arts world altogether and that the council was generally supportive of cultural activities.
“We don’t know the ins and outs of the relationship between the council and the Fringe, but we very much hope that we can help the Fringe to find new sources of help and sponsorship.”
A statement from the council said: “Bath and North East Somerset Council is proud of the arts and culture on offer in the area and provides support to a range of world-class festivals.
“Over a number of years, the council has financially supported the Bath Fringe Festival to co-ordinate a range of festival activities. However, the council has taken the decision to end its current funding agreement with Bath Fringe Festival, due to their failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the contract.
“Bath and North East Somerset Council monitors the use of taxpayers’ money to make sure it is being used responsibly and that we are getting value for money. When awarding grant funding to an organisation, the council expects them to comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement for example by producing the required financial reports and project monitoring. Problems with financial reporting were identified in 2007-8 and the council took steps to help Bath Fringe Festival put the right systems in place and develop as an organisation. However, although some progress had been made by October 2009, this was insufficient and the decision was taken to cease funding.
“Funding that would have gone to the Bath Fringe Festival in 2010/11 will now be allocated to another community arts project.”
The council would not be drawn on the location of the event it was planning.
“The council’s arts development team will be inviting ideas from organisations in April for a community arts project (to work throughout the 12 months of the year) that will contribute to the development of vibrant communities. This could be a project that addresses inequalities and helps those communities in greatest need in areas such as health, economic development and accessibility.”