BASINGSTOKE council has confirmed it will be giving the town’s theatre 90 days’ notice of its intention to cut its funding.

Anvil Arts, which runs The Anvil and The Haymarket theatres in Basingstoke, as well as a number of community outreach and education projects in the area, previously told the Gazette that it was set to lose at lead 50 per cent of its previously-agreed funding as a result of the council’s cost-cutting measures.

Councillors across parties raised concerns about the 2021/22 budget’s cuts to the culture sector, while the charity has described the move as “short sighted” and “unreasonable”, and also refuted claims made by the council leader that its business plan is “not fit for purpose”.

At a cabinet meeting on Tuesday (March 9), members discussed their community and voluntary sector grant scheme.

Councillors were presented with the recommendation to approve the decided-upon grants, as well as “to give 90 days’ notice of the council’s intention to reduce its grant to the Anvil Trust in accordance with the agreement between the parties dated 10 May 2017.”

Council documents state that “on-going engagement is taking place with the Anvil Trust with the aim to renegotiate grant funding levels for 2021/22”.

In 2020/21, the Anvil Trust received a grant of £790,924 and was due to be awarded a further £790,924 in 2021/22, as per the 2017 agreement.

However, they add: “In line with the 2021/22 Budget approved by Council on 25 February, the maximum grant award will be £395,462 if the council is assured that the business plan is robust and demonstrates the financial sustainability of the organisation.”

Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Kim Taylor (Labour, Brighton Hill) voiced her concerns about the decision.

She said: “The way the paper reads is that the brunt of that is going to be faced by the Haymarket. I think it's one of those decisions that we could make that we make in haste and will regret.”

She added that the retail sector in the town centre has been severely hit in the past year, and this could exacerbate its issues.

“It seem to me to be really ironic if we make a decision to cut this vast amount of funding that could basically see the Haymarket close and a little while down the line we’re going to end up with a recommendation that one of the ways to help the Top of Town is increased leisure.

“I worry that this is actually going to be doing more damage to the town centre. And I am particularly interested to know what our plans are for the building when this lease is up in 2022, if it's not going to be a theatre.”

Addressing the concerns raised, council leader Cllr Ken Rhatigan emphasised how the move will encourage decreased reliance of the Anvil Trust on the borough.

“Hopefully the Anvil will put their shoulder to the wheel and get additional funding from central government,” he said.

“I think the Anvil Trust in their own way have not done as well as they could for themselves. The business plan that was submitted was not fit for purpose, and that was their own words on that. We will find them a way forward with a smaller grant.

“It’s a difficult call but you can be sure that we will ensure that the buildings remain, because they are the most important thing.”

Cllr John Izett, member for regeneration and property, added: “There’s a considerable amount of funding still coming from the borough. I agree that in the future in terms of the town centre the Haymarket has a big role to play, but I’m interested to know who might be taking the lead in terms of making the most of that beautiful building in the centre of town.”

Cabinet went on to approve the recommendation.