Saved! Council abandons plans to axe music tuition… but is it just for now?

Council leaders in East Sussex have ‘listened to reason’ according to Eastbourne’s Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd.

Speaking the wake of the announcement that East Sussex County Council will not close the East Sussex Music Service that provides instrumental tuition to youngsters across the county Mr Lloyd said: “For many months now I and others have been lobbying for ESCC to row back from its initial proposal – to cut this much-loved and important music service.

“I’m aware that many of the staff were convinced money could be saved while retaining the musical instrument service, because a number had written to me with this information, so we’ve been nonplussed why it appeared that County Hall simply wouldn’t listen to them.

“Consequently I wrote again only a few weeks ago, urging Cllr Bob Standley, the Tory Cabinet Lead, to drop his and the senior officer’s opposition to the proposals put forward by his own employees. It’s good that he and his colleagues have finally listened to reason, and to the many thousands of members of the public who’ve begged the county council not to shut the musical tuition service for the county’s children.”

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During the consultation process the council launched earlier in the summer to debate the future of the service more than 12,000 people signed a petition demanding that it be retained.

In a statement issued at the end of last week ESCC said: “Much-valued music lessons for young people across East Sussex will continue after alternative savings were identified.

“Earlier in 2018, ESCC announced a consultation on proposals to remove funding for individual and small group instrumental lessons in a bid to make savings of £180,000 and balance the music service’s books.

“A report to be presented to the lead member for education, Mr Standley, identifies additional full-year savings of more than £84,000 from voluntary requests for redundancy and reduced hours, among other efficiencies.

“Along with previously identified savings, including a management and administration restructure and reduction in the number of teaching weeks, it means the service is now able to deliver a balanced budget.”

The Incorporated Society of Musicians said: “We are thrilled to hear the news that plans to cut East Sussex Music Service have now been abandoned. Thank you to the 12,000 people who signed the petition to save the music service from cuts.”

Stuart Gallimore, director of children’s services, said: “We are grateful to the support shown for the service by the level of response to the public consultation.

“We fully recognise the value of the music service, and are delighted that we have been able to find the additional savings needed to prevent the closure of the instrumental teaching part of the service.

“We knew that the restructuring of the service and other efficiencies would help to achieve some of the savings required, but additional savings have been identified that could not have been factored in before the public consultation launched.

“This means it will not be necessary to close the instrumental part of the music service in September 2019, as originally proposed.  It also gives us time to properly explore sustainable long-term options for the service which have come forward during the public consultation.”

With the budget shortfall addressed through a reduction in staffing costs and other efficiency savings, the lead member will be asked to approve further work on identifying sustainable future business models for the service.

Mr Gallimore said: “While our priority has been addressing the budget shortfall, it is vital that we consider longer-term options that will make the music service financially sustainable without a reliance on county council resources.

“We want to explore whether there are opportunities to merge with another music service to create improved opportunities for young people and a more efficient service.

“We are pleased that East Sussex Music will be able to continue to offer a wide range of musical opportunities for children and young people, and hope that further work will future-proof the much-valued service.”

But with ESCC known to be under continued financial pressure and needing to find even more savings from its budget next year campaigner Trevor Wharton warned supporters of the music service that the battle might not be over yet: “Congratulations all. Victory today but keep eyes open for the next attack,” he said on hearing the news.

The lead member will receive an update on the music service at his meeting on Friday, September 14.  The full report can be found at https://democracy.eastsussex.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=456&MId=3545&Ver=4

For more information about music opportunities for young people provided by East Sussex Music, visit www.eastsussex.gov.uk/music

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