A campaign group set up to protest cuts at Spalding’s leading arts venue says it’s disappointed a restructure will go ahead and urged residents to ‘use it or lose it’.
The South Holland Centre was costing tax payers around £250,000 a year, it’s been claimed, as cutbacks to staff were voted through despite a late bid to defer a decision by councillors disappointed that a full business case for the cuts wasn’t presented.
South Holland District Council leader Lord Gary Porter said deferring would have “killed” the centre. The claimed pre-COVID cost to council tax payers equates to around £8.68 a year per council tax payer in the area.
Full details of the decision are not being published though it is understood 26 roles are being merged to seven.
The council says it allows the centre to be “more flexible” and has committed to continuing live performances but many users, including local arts groups, are worried about the loss of technical staff for their own events.
Liz Hallissey, of Act II and the group ‘Keep SHC a-Live’, said that the centre had been brought in on or under budget each year, staff worked on flexible hours already and that the previous manager who retired in 2020 hadn’t been asked to make savings in ten years.
She said: “We are naturally disappointed with SHDCs short-sighted decision to vote through the staff restructure at the South Holland Centre which will undoubtedly lead to the redundancies of several highly experienced arts professionals.
“This will be a huge loss to the centre moving forward as it aims to live up to the Council’s promise of bringing back live performances, functions and community events whilst maintaining the rich and hugely varied programme which was offered by SHC pre-Covid.
“We take heart in the strength of feeling demonstrated by the residents of South Holland in the last few weeks, the support of the local media and Sir John Hayes, and the incredible efforts of the opposition councillors including Angela Newton and Rob Gibson, who lobbied hard at the meeting for a postponement in order to set up a steering group to properly consider the future of the Centre.
“Moving forward, we believe it is everybody’s responsibility to safe-guard the future of this incredibly special venue and would urge people to support the Centre throughout it’s reopening, starting by attending the cinema programme this summer.
“The message of ‘use it or lose it’ has never been so pertinent. Also we thank SHDC for their very public pledge regarding the return of live events in the autumn and we look forward to playing our part in keeping the Centre, and the arts as a whole, alive for the residents of South Holland and beyond.”
Coun Newton told last Thursday’s meeting while attempting the deferral: “While we probably have to do some restructuring, we’re probably doing it too early.
“We’ve taken a decision to join with two councils who have more expertise than us.
“We’ve budgeted with the building to the end of March and last year there was a £43,000 underspend so I think it was moving in the right direction.”
The attempted deferral led to anger from some councillors.
Lord Porter said: “What you’re in danger of doing if you don’t get this through tonight is killing the whole building off for the rest of its life.
“It’s not going to have people hanging about in the building doing jobs that don’t exist at times when the public don’t need them to.
“We need them to focus on delivering the best theatre we can, the best cinema we can, in a limited set of resources.”
The meeting heard a Friends of South Holland Centre group was in the process of being set up to promote the venue.