REDUNDANCIES will be ‘inevitable’ a theatre boss is warning after the council decided to slash its funding for Basingstoke arts.

In an exclusive interview with The Gazette, the chief executive of Anvil Arts said job losses would be unavoidable and has called upon residents to write to councillors to demand they reverse their decision which “dropped a bomb” on their plans to recover from the pandemic.

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has been accused of giving the organisation “very little notice” after voting to drop its halve its funding from £790,924 to £395,462.

Chief executive Matthew Cleaver said: “It just doesn’t make any sense... We are going to be the last sector out of lockdown. We want to be open, we want to be serving the community. It was already a difficult situation and it is just kicking somebody when they are down.”

He said he was also baffled by the council’s criticism that Anvil Arts didn’t have a robust business plan in place, saying: “They know everything about the organisation which is as it should be because it is public money. For 26 years, there haven’t been any problems but now they want to cut the investment because we’re suddenly a badly-managed organisation. It just doesn’t make any sense. “

Council leader Ken Rhatigan described The Anvil’s plans as “not fit for purpose” at a meeting last month.

The authority had already cut its investment by 40 per cent in the last seven years. Anvil Arts has lost £1.4million in income as a result of the pandemic and losing 50 per cent of its council-backed funding so suddenly “basically dropped a bomb onto all our plans”, Mr Cleaver said.

He explained that the council approves the business plan, sends quarterly reports from the Anvil, and that a councillor sits on its board and contributes to the making of decisions which is why he was left blind-sided by the comments about their business strategy.

The chief executive said the economic contribution to the town from Anvil Arts - which runs the Forge, Haymarket and Anvil venues - is £6 for every £1 of public money invested in the theatre, adding that there are other immeasurable positive effects from having a well-funded cultural scene which improves the health and wellbeing of residents.

The loss in income will result in job losses and cuts to services. He said: “[It] will inevitably mean redundancies to a staff team which is already small.”

While Anvil Arts will have to reduce the work it does in the community with schools, care homes and the Musication Station in Festival Place.

Mr Cleaver said: “Everything that we provide will potentially have to be significantly altered. We don’t have a choice, with a cut of that scale being imposed so quickly.”

Responding to fears about what the cuts mean for the future of The Haymarket Theatre, on Wote Street, he said the trust would do “everything we can” to save it. Its lease is due to expire next year.

He said: “The Haymarket is such an important organisation, we will be doing all we can to keep it open.

“We really want to hang onto that element of the programme because Basingstoke is quite a young town really and there’s big demand for that.”

Mr Cleaver said that Anvil Arts will now be looking at alternative funding to make up for the loss, but that this “takes time” as application processes often only open once or twice a year, adding: “If the council decided this is what they wanted to do, then doing it gradually would have been much more sensible. It makes it that much more difficult to replace that sort of sum.”

Pleading with councillors, he simply stated: “The message is reverse the cut. It’s got to be.”

He added that local people who value the service need to write to their councillors to express with their views.

“We are eager to reopen safely, as early as we possibly can,” he said.

“When we can reopen, come back and enjoy what you have always enjoyed. But then also, write to your councillor, because this is something which affects the whole town. The Anvil and the Haymarket are part of the life of the town, things that proper towns have.

“Having good entertainment venues and arts venues means that the town is more attractive. And it should be, as it has been, part of the town’s life.”