This week I’ve been interviewed by the BBC about the future of The Public arts centre in West Bromwich.
I know this is a controversial subject for many reasons and lots of people have strong views.
But my bottom line is that the council can’t continue to subsidise The Public. Perhaps I can explain why.
As it stands, the council is funding this building to the tune of about £30,000 a week.
That’s nearly £1.6million a year.
That money is taxpayers’ money. In the face of the cuts the council is facing, this can’t carry on.
I know the building means a lot to many people. Not just those who work there, but the people who enjoy the arts activities, the gigs, the café and the exhibitions.
And I appreciate the lengths people have gone to with their petition and their campaign to keep The Public open.
But it remains the case that the way The Public is run at the moment isn’t sustainable.
Currently, there is no entrance fee, so the number of people coming through the door doesn’t necessarily mean more money in the till.
The gigs don’t generate the kind of revenue needed to keep the place open as an entertainment venue. In fact I’ve been told ticket sales at some gigs haven’t covered the artist’s fee.
I wonder if the acts who have campaigned to keep The Public open (John Challis, to name one) knew that council taxpayers may have effectively helped foot the bill for their appearances?
Let’s be fair – I think the Arts Trust has done a great job over the past couple of years. But this situation can’t continue.
So, we’re now in talks with Sandwell College about them taking over the building to use it as a sixth form.
The success of their new Sandwell Campus down the road has been incredible, and they are turning away hundreds of potential students as their courses are oversubscribed.
If The Public building is taken on by the college, then I’m told this might include some arts provision.
Plans are by no means finalised, but it would mean the building could still have arts activities as well as gigs, comedy nights and other events. I’d be in favour of this if the college was happy with the arrangement and if the running of the events was self-sufficient.
I also want to be absolutely clear that the cost of refurbishing the inside of the building would be met by the college if they do take it over. Not by the council.
And if the plan with the college doesn’t come off, we will have to consider other ideas for the future of the building.
But I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in saying that this council can no longer afford this commitment to financing The Public.
We’ve lost many millions of pounds as a council over the past few years from the money we get from the government.
I happen to think that Sandwell has coped pretty well with softening the impact of massive cuts like this and keeping services going for local people.
But there comes a time when, surely, something has to give – especially as the cuts are going to continue for years to come.