COVENTRY council leaders have pledged to do all they can to prevent the closure of the city’s art gallery and museums from funding cuts.
It follows a suggestion mooted by Gary Hall, chief executive of Culture Coventry, which manages The Herbert art gallery and museum and transport museum, that a proposed £250,000 funding cut could ultimately lead to the closure of the Herbert, or one of the trust’s major venues.
It comes as the city is bidding to become the 2021 UK City of Culture.
The Belgrade Theatre also faces a £250,000 cut.
As previously reported by the Coventry Observer, the city’s main cultural and sporting trusts are among organisations facing cuts in council grants to charities and community enterprises.
The council’s Labour leaders say up to £1.2million of proposed cuts to £9million of grants to 40 organisations – currently out to consultation – are unavoidable because of ongoing unprecedented government funding cuts to the council.
Charities providing vital services to some of the city’s most vulnerable people – including the young, old and disabled – also face substantial budget cuts.
The Coventry Observer in May revealed museum staff, as part of £100,000 planned cuts, were asked to accept new pay arrangements – or face having their contracts ripped up.
Culture Coventry says about two thirds of the organisation’s income comes from funding via Coventry council.
Mr Hall, in an email to all staff, also said he did not believe it would be feasible to introduce general admission fees for the Herbert, although such a charge could be considered for the transport museum.
Clarifying his earlier public comments made at a council meeting, Mr Hall’s email said of the proposed £500,000 cuts between Culture Coventry and the Belgrade by 2017: “A cost saving of this level would prevent us from delivering our development plans and would have a significant impact our our organisation. I also said that a saving of this level could only be acheived by closing one of our major sites.
“… I also wanted to illustrate, as an example, the magnitude that closing something like the Herbert would have on not just us, but the city as a whole and especially Coventry’s bid to become City of Culture in 2021.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that we are not proposing to close the Herbert or curtail anything we do at the Herbert.”
Councillor Faye Abbott, Coventry City Council’s cabinet member for the city of culture bid, said: “The cultural assets in The Herbert, which is managed by Culture Coventry, belong to the people of Coventry.
“The Herbert is one of the jewels in our heritage crown and will play an important part in our bid to be city of culture.
“We’ve been working closely with Culture Coventry as it faces big challenges to meet the long term savings needed across all the organisations we grant fund as a result of spending cuts that have been imposed on us by the government.
“We’ve been very clear with Culture Coventry that it needs to look closely at its running and management costs across the entire organisation including the Transport Museum and Lunt Roman Fort.
“Any proposal to do anything as drastic as closing The Herbert would not be supported by councillors.
“We’re happy to work with the chief executive and his management team to identify savings that could help them face the challenges ahead and avoid any threat to this much loved asset.”
Council leader Ann Lucas, said: “I’m sorry the Chief Executive of Culture Coventry feels he can’t guarantee the future of one of our best loved assets – we’re clear as a council that closure is not an option we want to see.
“The council is happy to work with the organisation to help it identify a way forward and will make sure Culture Coventry explores all the options available.”
Mr Hall’s email states job losses had already resulted from the trust achieving the council-set annual savings target of £393,000.
The trust also runs the Priory Visitor Centre which is set to close next year.