Councillors voted this morning to keep their options open about the future of music tuition in the schools of East Sussex but the threat of complete closure of the East Sussex Music Service has not been completely removed.
East Sussex County Council was forced to debate the matter in public after more than 12,000 people signed a petition objecting to proposals outlined by Councillor Bob Standley, the council’s Lead member for Education, Inclusion, Special Education Needs and Disability earlier this year for the closure of the music service in an attempt to save money.
This morning, before councillors went on to discuss the issue in detail, Jane Humberstone, one of the leading campaigners against the proposed closure, was allowed five minutes to address the full council and explain why the music service should be saved.
When Mr Standley spoke he said he wanted to correct two errors in the wording of the petition, he told councillors the saving required was £180,000 not £80,000 and the number of children involved was 3,200 not 7,000.
He acknowledged that things had ‘moved on’ since his original announcement at the end of April and said he welcomed proposals from outside bodies to deliver an instrumental teaching service and explained that he was due to meet music service staff tomorrow. Mr Standley told councillors: “My wish has always been to find a long term solution but that needs to be a solution that is sustainable. I appreciate service is popular and I’m reasonably confident, although I can’t guarantee, but I’m reasonably confident that we can find a long term solution.”
He then proposed a motion which he asked the council to adopt which said: “The council notes the petition and welcomes steps taken by the council to explore a realistic sustainable strategy… in line with the lead members decision on April 30th.”
Hastings In Focus understands that the 3,200 children Mr Standley quotes are those who would be directly affected should the music services close. The 7,000 figure quoted by campaigners includes the wider community and includes children using the music hubs and playing in orchestras who would suffer indirectly through the loss of one-to-one instrumental tuition in schools.
As far as the £100,000 anomaly in how much requires to be saved Ms Humberstone believes there needs to be more transparency surrounding figures, “there almost needs to be a complete audit so we can all fully understand what is being taken in to consideration by the council in terms of costs to run the service.”
In the meeting it was councillor John Barnes who told what he called, ‘the blunt truth’ when he said that the council simply did not have enough money to provide the services it has done in the past. And he went on to say that the cost cutting the council has been involved in in recent years will continue for at least another two years, “that means we’re having to make decisions we don’t like,” he said.
Mr Barnes warned that to simply save the music service this year and to ignore an attempt to find a long term solution would not protect the service for the future. He pointed out that changes in the way in which the council is allowed to use grants it receives from government means cash that used to go to the music service can no longer be spent there. He called for ‘imaginative solutions’. One solution he suggested was to use a trust or a community interest company to take the music service ‘off the council’s books’ and secure it’s long term existence.
Councillor after councillor acknowledged the scale of the public backlash to the plans to close the music service and they acknowledged the benefits that learning to play music can bring.
Hastings councillor Godfrey Daniel read out a list of benefits from learning to play music many of which have an impact on a child’s ability to understand and retain information across a whole range of subjects. He said involvement in music helps children develop language and reasoning skills, they master the ability to memorise and they learn to improve their work through practise. He told councillors that music helps children stay engaged in education and improves their results across the curriculum. Before turning his fire on the ruling Conservative group on East Sussex County Council, calling on them to ‘stand up’ against the cuts being imposed on the county council by central government, Mr Daniel suggested that the council’s recent decision to abolish the music management committee could be seen as a ‘pre-emptive strike’.
Councillors also acknowledged the apparent absurdity of planning to cut individual instrumental tuition while retaining the music hubs and orchestras in the county. It was pointed out that without youngsters learning their instruments in school there would be no new players to feed in to the music hubs and orchestras effectively killing them off too.
Councillor Kathryn Field said many managers within the music service believe they could find the savings the council needs but she pointed out that many of them did not feel they had been listened to, or even consulted, on the future of the music service and were unhappy that their experiences and knowledge was not being used.
While Councillor Sarah Osbourne warned the council it was being shortsighted pointing out that the music industry is worth more than £4billion a year to the British economy and without tuition in schools talent will go ‘unnurtured’.
Councillor Ruth O’Keefe said she welcomed the fact there appeared to be some movement from Councillor Standley on looking for alternatives to complete closure and said not consulting managers and staff was a ‘missed opportunity’.
When it came to a vote councillors supported the motion proposed by Mr Standley and rejected an amendment which called on the council’s cabinet to withdraw the closure threat and to ‘undertake serious discussion to find a way to continue service in present form.’
Speaking after the meeting Ms Humberstone was still not sure what the future was for the East Sussex Music Service, pointing out that the threat of complete closure was still a real possibility. She also has concerns that the council is not leaving itself time to properly investigate and be able to properly implement any alternative proposals it might decided to go ahead with.