Posted: Mon 27th Nov 2023

Future of National Theatre Wales at risk due to funding cuts, Senedd told

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This article is old - Published: Monday, Nov 27th, 2023

The future of National Theatre Wales is at risk due to funding cuts and the Welsh Government has washed its hands of responsibility, the Senedd heard.

Tom Giffard, the Conservatives’ shadow culture minister, criticised the Arts Council of Wales decision to cut multi-year funding for the theatre charity.

He told the Senedd: “The decision potentially jeopardises the future financial viability of the national theatre and the future of English-language theatre in Wales more generally.”

Mr Giffard raised concerns about a review of English-language theatre taking place after a decision to cut funding, accusing the Arts Council of putting the cart before the horse.

The South Wales West MS said an impact assessment does not include a single number.

Arm’s length

Dawn Bowden, who is responsible for arts, stressed that funding is channelled through the Arts Council which operates at arm’s length from the Welsh Government.

She told MSs: “Under that principle, the investment review, which has led to the decision on the National Theatre for Wales, is a decision for the Arts Council of Wales.”

Reiterating that it is a matter for the Arts Council, the deputy minister said: “I recognise that they’ve been through a very robust process and they’ve had to make some very difficult decisions, as required, going through that process.”

Ms Bowden explained that an independent appeals process is underway, saying it would be inappropriate to comment further while it is ongoing.

Mr Giffard stressed that he respects the arm’s-length principle but suggested the Welsh Government cannot completely wash its hands of the decision.

“At the end of the day, this is taxpayers’ money,” he said.

“You have a responsibility to ensure money is spent effectively, efficiently – making sure of the wider health of the arts sector.”

He said the decision to cut funding could eventually land on the deputy minister’s desk.

Pledge

Mr Giffard raised a 2007 pledge, under the ‘One Wales’ agreement, to establish a national English-language theatre, asking whether the ambition had been abandoned.

“No, absolutely not,” said Ms Bowden. “But I can’t pick and choose as the arts minister.

“I can’t pick and choose where the Arts Council of Wales carries out its responsibilities as an arm’s-length body.

“The very nature of an arm’s-length body means that that is exactly what they do.

“They make their own decisions and they distribute their funding based on the principles that we set out in our remit letter to them, so that they’re not acting completely out of kilter.”

During economy questions on Wednesday November 22, Mr Giffard responded: “The minister washes her hands of it. The national theatre here has been completely defunded.”

‘Crisis’

The Conservative highlighted that Graeme Farrow, artistic director at the Wales Millennium Centre, described the sector as in crisis during an appearance on Politics Wales.

Mr Giffard said the programme was told the deputy minister was unavailable for comment.

He criticised Ms Bowden for taking more journeys in a ministerial car than any other deputy minister and raised a £30,000 trip to New Zealand to attend the women’s rugby world cup.

Mr Giffard said: “When the arts is in a crisis in Wales, the deputy minister is unavailable for comment and nowhere to be seen.

“Your role is about far more than just photo opps and ribbon cutting – it’s about being a champion for the industry. So, when will you get a grip on the situation?”

Ms Bowden replied: “I’m not even sure that that tirade warrants a response.”

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter



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