I want to make it clear the council is not permanently closing the building – and we’ve never said we were going to.
What we have agreed today is that we have to do things differently because we can’t afford for The Public to carry on as it is at £30,000 a week – nearly £1.6 million a year.
As leader of the council, I am having to make tough decisions because of the scale of central government cuts. We wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for these cuts.
I’ve always said I will focus on protecting vital frontline services and I’ve asked myself time and again, if we continue with The Public in its current form, what else would have to go?
I want to place on record my thanks to Sandwell Arts Trust – they’ve done a great job. They have asked us for a new five-year deal and didn’t want any further short-term agreements. Because of the financial circumstances, we couldn’t offer them five years – and so we’re in the position we are in. The Trust has agreed to continue until 30 November when it will hand the building back to us.
I want to reassure everyone that we are working to secure a long-term, financially viable future for the building. If it does shut for a period of time for work to be carried out, this will be temporary, not permanent.
We are looking at a number of options – one of which is Sandwell College using the building as a sixth form and lifelong learning centre – with arts, community and business provision too. I’m sorry I can’t say more about that today other than to say our talks continue.
I know the building means a lot to many people and we’ve listened to those who’ve campaigned to keep it as it is. We will ensure the building still serves the local community and supports arts, learning and business – but in a different and more affordable way to now.
We do support the arts in many ways in Sandwell at a number of venues across the borough – for example just this week we have the Sandwell Arts Festival getting under way and we currently have the Bill Viola exhibition at Wednesbury Museum & Art Gallery on loan from the Tate and National Galleries Scotland.
And to the businesses and groups that use The Public building, I want to say we will be talking to you to make sure your work and activities continue in the town centre.
Finally, I would like to remind everyone that the council rescued The Public after it went into administration some years ago – we could have walked away then but we didn’t.
We remain committed to securing The Public building’s long-term future. I hope people will understand that, in the face of very difficult economic times, we are working to give the building a more secure future and definitely not turning our backs and shutting its doors for good.