The Stonehenge visitor centre (above), which was lauded as being "badly needed" when it was revealed in October 2009, has been axed as part of government spending cuts
The British Film Institute’s £45 million national Film Centre at London’s South Bank and the contested £25 million Stonehenge visitor centre have been axed in a £73 million round of government spending cuts.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport scrapped funding for the developments, announced by their predecessors, in a bid to combat an “unprecedented financial situation” in the UK.
Other casualties include a £2.5 million digital archive project at the BFI, a libraries modernisation scheme costing £2 million a year, the £5 million scheme allowing free swimming for children and pensioners and a £100,000 saving from A Night Less Ordinary, giving free theatre tickets to the public.
The BFI's IMAX cinema. Image: Robert Aleck, www.cynexia.com
“As part of my department’s contribution, we have examined a number of schemes to determine whether they remain a government priority, value for money and affordable,” said Jeremy Hunt, the new Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport.
“We are facing an unprecedented financial situation in this country, and it is essential that we act now to reduce the country’s debt.
“This has involved some incredibly difficult decisions, but the cultural and sporting worlds, like everyone else, urgently need the country’s finances to be returned to a sustainable position.”
Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport
Creative Industries Minister Ed Vaizey said it was “obviously disappointing” that “the severe financial problems facing Britain” had affected the Film Centre.
“Although we are unable to commit to some large scale capital investment projects, I am planning to fundamentally reassess how the Government supports film in this country,” he pledged.
“I want to make sure that we are supporting the film industry so that it is ready for the challenges it will face in the decade to come, and that we make sure every pound of public money we spend gives the maximum benefit.”
A Night Less Ordinary attempted to draw a less traditional crowd to UK theatres
In a stoic-appearing statement, the BFI suggested the news was unsurprising but admitted they were “concerned” that film was “bearing the brunt” of the reductions.
“In today’s challenging financial climate we understand the difficulty of making decisions of this kind and fully expect to play our part,” they acknowledged.
“We had anticipated that the government would not be able to afford investment in the Film Centre at this time and knew that we would face a challenge on the project. We still remain committed to taking the BFI Film Centre forward.
“More than 50 per cent of the DCMS cuts announced are coming from the film sector. Film is a critical component of Britain’s future cultural and economic prosperity and we welcome the Minister’s commitment to reviewing government’s support for the industry. Our one plea is that this is done as a matter of urgency.”
Reflecting on Stonehenge, Tourism and Heritage Minister John Penrose hinted that the visitor centre project could be revitalised at a later date.
“I recognise the disappointment that everyone in the heritage community feels at today’s announcement,” he said.
“But I hope that they, and others, will understand why this has come about - the costs and benefits of this project had to be considered in the light of the current financial picture.
“We all have to accept trade-offs, but even though we can’t afford to fund the project today, it remains a priority for the future.”
In a brief statement, English Heritage admitted “extreme disappointment” at the decision.
“Transforming the monument’s setting and the visitor experience is vital to Britain’s reputation and to our tourism industry,” they argued, promising a further announcement on the scheme’s future at the end of June.
“We will be discussing the withdrawal of Government financial support with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. This does not necessarily mean this is the end of the project.”
Find Your Talent, a “cultural offer” helping young people find work experience in the creative industry, has also been abandoned, saving £2 million.
“This programme would have yielded important learning about how the impact of culture can be delivered most effectively,” said Paul Collard, Chief Executive of organisers Creativity, Culture and Education.
“Access to cultural opportunity is too important to be an accident of geography or the privilege of a minority.”
The charity has already lost £1.6 million of in-year funding from the Arts Council.
“These cuts have meant paring back budgets which relate to the training of children and arts professionals, community engagement and research,” added Collard, warning that further cuts would be “felt hard” by regional organisations.
“It is important that the government recognises the value of engaging children and young people with the arts through creative and cultural education.”
The Arts Council has used almost half of its historic reserves to stem a £19 million budget reduction and limit cuts to funded organisations to 0.5% this year.
“We have done our best to minimise the effect on our funded organisations and the art they produce so brilliantly,” explained Council Chair Dame Liz Forgan.
“The financial climate is tough, but the arts remain a compelling case for public investment.
“We will continue to put that case to government, and to make it clear that now reserves have been spent, the burden of any further cuts will fall on funded organisations.”