Sutton council’s consultation on the future of the borough’s two theatres is coming to an end this week. Many residents involved in the arts locally share my view that seven weeks is just not long enough for groups of volunteers to get together a business plan to take over the running of the theatres without any funding from the council.
The council had seven months since Danny Alexander decided how much his Lib Dem colleagues in Sutton would have to cut from their council budget. However the inconvenience of a council election in May meant that this was not consulted upon until recently. Even now not all of the information needed for interested parties to do due diligence is fully available. That having been said, it is not all bad. Officers in the council have tried to make up for lost time and are actively working with groups to ensure they have what they need. The need for a business plan has changed to just an outline now with more detail required over the next few months. However the plan is still for the theatres to close at the end of March until someone is in a position to reopen them.
Last week, I invited Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to join me in getting an update from Samia Tossio, the Chair of Arts Network Sutton, Rebecca Moreland from the Theatres Trust and Gary Milsom, a tenant at the Charles Cryer Theatre who runs the Crunch Studio there. Sajid was surprised at the timescale, citing other places where transfers had been made over a longer period to ensure that everything was in place and that the theatres could continue uninterrupted with a smooth transition. However he has offered support if required to ensure that the council and our local theatre groups can learn from these other examples across the country. Sutton council does not have any experience in this area so it is important that we seek as much help as possible. The Theatre Trust has seen this all before, so their help is invaluable. If the Secretary of State can keep an eye on the process and knock heads together if anything stalls, then that has to be good for the future of the arts in Sutton as well as us, the taxpayers.