News that Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council has slashed funding for Anvil Arts has caused controversy in the town.

More than 5,000 people signing a petiting calling for the authority to reverse its decision. 

Now two senior councillors have responded publicly through an open letter.

You can read it in full below: 

Dear Resident,

Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council are one of the highest funders of the arts amongst district councils in the country. The borough council has invested over £21 million since the £10.5 million initial building of the Anvil.

It is with this background that we would like every resident to have the full picture around the support provided to the arts to ensure the Anvil and the Haymarket achieve everything that they can to support arts and culture as well as the economy of our borough.

The Anvil and the Haymarket are the two most important cultural building assets that this council owns. It is clear to protect them and the activities that happen within them that we need to have the best operator running them for the benefit of all our residents.

In 2016 when the initial funding commitment was agreed between the council and Anvil Arts it was clearly made with an expectation that Anvil Arts Trust as the operator would increase the fundraising and income gained from other sources than the borough council. Sadly this has not happened with all funding now lost from HCC, reduced from other sources and small amounts generated by fundraising.

We are surprised by communications from the Anvil Trust Chief Executive that they will keep the Haymarket open when the lease they have on the council owned Haymarket Theatre finishes in March 2022.

Since 2019 we have been in discussion with the then Chief Executive, and their deputy, about getting the organisation in the best possible position to make the most of these council owned assets for our residents.

At the start of the global pandemic in March 2020 the council guaranteed the programme funding grant of £790k whilst the venues remained closed. Since then Anvil Arts have also received an additional £369k from the Culture Recovery Fund. A total in excess of over £1.1 million pounds of public money to sustain them during the pandemic.

During July 2020 Cllr Bound & Cllr Izett held a meeting with the Chief Executive, Chair of the board and their adviser to hear the work required for improving their financial management, governance and organisational leadership as assessed by their adviser. As a council we expressed our continuing concerns at the lack of scenario planning for the pandemic, their recovery and the urgent need for a new business plan.

As part of the trustee board meeting in October 2020 officers of the council were surprised that content of this conversation was downplayed by the Chief Executive and the Chair and significant implications not discussed by the board of trustees. Officers felt it important enough to confirm in writing after the meeting.

The late arrival of their draft business plan in January has demonstrated how Anvil Arts need support to eliminate the mismatch in their strategic planning with the financials in their business plan, additional skills to build a sustainable business plan that provides the resources for the significant costs of repairs to the building and general maintenance over the next 5 years and also builds a

capability to directly fundraise. As a council we will be looking at how we ensure this work happens to both satisfy the criteria to release public funding and also that secures the organisation’s future.

It is our intention to provide funding going forwards provided that we do have a satisfactory new business plan. We do not underestimate what a challenge this will be for the organisationbut without one it will be extremely difficult to provide public funds in the way of a future grant.

We would respectfully ask the board to urgently invest all their energy in creating an acceptable business plan for their organisation focussed on, recovery, renewal and sustainability.

Arts and Culture is hugely important to our residents and the future success of Basingstoke town centre and we will work closely with Anvil Arts to protect these valuable art venues. This is a commitment that we have discussed with the Arts Council and also make to the wider arts and culture community in our borough and beyond.

Cllr Ken Rhatigan, Leader of the Council

Cllr Simon Bound, Deputy Leader of the Council

Link to Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council – Cabinet papers for grant funding