Students stage musical protest at Newport council cuts
10:30am Thursday 3rd January 2013 in News
CONCERT CAMPAIGN: Gwent music students played outside Newport Civic Centre in protest at proposed cuts to Gwent Music Support Service
GWENT music students, parents and alumni gathered for a tuneful protest against a proposal by a council to axe funding to the region’s music service.
As part of Newport council’s draft budget proposals for 2013/14 the authority is looking at axing its contribution of £292,000 to Gwent Music Support Service (GMSS).
About 80 people gathered for a mini-concert in support of the service and to protest against the cutbacks.
One campaigner said they didn’t think GMSS, which also receives funding from Torfaen and Monmouthshire, would cope without the cash from Newport council.
Protesters sung and played an arrangement created especially for the event, featuring hymns such as Cwm Rhondda and Abide with Me.
They were conducted by Ben Teague, secretary of the anti-GMSS cuts committee, who organised a petition that has attracted more than 2,000 signatures.
GMSS student Florence Mayo, 13, of Ponthir and who plays double bass, bass guitar and sings, said: “It’s a great community. If it’s cut these children whose lives revolve around music might not be able to continue their musical career.”
Her mother, Sarah Flowers, 45, whose other children, Eliza Mayo, ten, and Reuben Mayo, six, also study with the service, added: “We will be going from music for all to music for the already privileged.”
Matthew Petrie, 20, of Monmouth, who is in his second year of studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, said he has been with the service since he was eight years old.
He said the service would be crushed by the cut: “Lots of people say you are putting money down the drain, but the creative arts industry is one of the top income earners of the UK.”
Committee chairman and trombonist Lloyd Pearce, 19, and also a student at the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff, said: “If the funding is cut it will be a massive blow.”
A handful of opposition councillors from Newport council also attended the protest, as did Labour council member Chris Evans.
Charles Ferris, a Tory councillor from Allt-yr-yn ward, said the cut could lead to fewer students taking up music at degree level.
Mr Evans said: “The image of any council snatching a violin out of a kid’s hand is pretty tough to stomach.
“However, let’s not jump the gun, it’s still out to consultation and I’m sure our leaders will make the right considered choice.”
Aconsultation into the draft budget proposals continues until next month. For more information visit www.newport.gov.uk/budget
Self-sufficiency is the goal
NEWPORT council’s priority is to ensure all children receive a first-class education, a spokeswoman said.
In a statement she said it has to make choices in challenging economic times, and these are becoming increasingly difficult.
The proposal to axe funding is aimed at the service becoming self-sufficient, while finding ways to offer some financial support to less well-off students.
This could include the creation of a local fund supported by the council, businesses and parents, to ensure children who need help to pursue their interest can be assisted.
“While the council recognises that GMSS does some excellent work, the priority has to be ensuring all Newport children receive a first-class education and that there is a commitment that school funding for 2013/14 meets the Welsh Government funding target,”she said.
This comes as the number of primary school pupils in the city is set to rise by more than 300, costing an extra £500,000 over the next five years, while services previously funded by grants will now have to be met from the central education budget.
Although the £1.39 million cash for post-16 special needs pupils is being transferred to the budget, this will leave a shortfall of £500,000 which the council will need to meet, the spokeswoman added.
ARGUS COMMENT: Manners are lacking
PROTESTS continue to grow against Newport city council’s proposal to axe funding for the highly regarded Gwent Music Support Service.
The council is considering ending its annual £292,000 contribution to GMSS as it seeks to find savings of £8.4 million in its 2013/14 budget.
GMSS also receives funding from other Gwent councils but is run by Newport.
The council wants GMSS – which provides music tuition to pupils across Gwent – to become self-funding.
But critics say this would mean charging youngsters for lessons and would discriminate against youngsters from poorer families.
There are no easy decisions as public-sector cuts begin to bite hard, though we would still suggest that a cut in funding rather than an end to it might be more palatable.
We are concerned, however, about an apparent lack of public engagement from the council on key issues. There was no consultation on the free-parking axe and there was no official recognition of yesterday’s protest concert at the Civic Centre by more than 80 GMSS students and alumni. Surely a cabinet member could have acknowledged their presence?
The proposal to end funding is meant to be part of a public consultation.
Talking to people like the youngsters yesterday should be part of that process.
Effectively ignoring their presence is bad manners.