Arts Trust behind West Bromwich's Public to return building to council

By Culture24 Reporter | 09 August 2013

A petition signed by more than 5,000 people opposing plans to close The Public, the West Bromwich arts centre beset by funding problems since opening in 2008, looks to have been in vain after councillors announced they could not afford to keep the venue running.

A photo of a modern urban art venue
Sandwell Arts Trust, the group which runs the centre, says it has been asked to hand the keys to the building back to Sandwell Council on November 30, with plans afoot to turn it into a sixth form college by 2014.

The Public opened two years later than scheduled in 2009, coming in £15 million over budget at a final cost of £67 million.

Councillor Darren Cooper said the authority would investigate keeping “some arts provision” at the venue.

“It’s not been an easy decision to make,” he explained.

“But the fact of the matter is the council can’t continue to subsidise The Public.

“The overall cost to the council is currently about £30,000 a week. That’s nearly £1.6 million a year.

“That money is council taxpayers’ money. In the face of the cuts the council is facing from central government, this can’t carry on.”

Paul Slater, the Chief Executive of the Trust, said the group was “very disappointed” that “financial circumstances” had resulted in the decision.

Record figures saw 380,000 people visit the centre last year, but around 60 staff are now expected to lose their jobs.

“I know the building means a lot to many people – not just those who work there, but the people who enjoy the arts activities, the gigs, the café and the exhibitions,” added Cooper.

“It has made a significant difference to many people’s lives – including bringing work experience opportunities to West Bromwich and promoting the town.

“But it remains the case that we can’t afford to continue running The Public in its current form.”

Visitors to The Public’s website criticised the move as “short-sighted” and a “sad loss”.

The Cabinet of senior councillors will be recommended to end the current agreement for the building with the Trust at a meeting on Wednesday (August 14 2013).
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