Belfast Telegraph

Belfast City Council offers Ulster Orchestra £100k... but with strings attached

By Rebecca Black

The troubled Ulster Orchestra is set to receive funding to the tune of £100,000 from Belfast City Council.

The orchestra has been struggling financially as funding is hit by budget cuts.

It had asked the council to enter into a "cash deficiency agreement" with it, in which the council would "agree to indemnify the Ulster Orchestra for any deficit up to £500,000 that it incurs by March 31, 2015".

The orchestra has also asked the council to consider allowing it a "rent-free period for five years for the Waterfront and Ulster Halls".

The orchestra costs around £4.6m a year to run.

In a letter to the council, orchestra chairman Sir George Bain said funding cuts by the Arts Council and BBC amount to 28% - equating to £817,000 - since March 2011. He said the orchestra was currently forecasting a deficit of about £400,000 for 2014/15. "This deficit, together with the in-year budget cut of 4% to our ACNI grant, will wipe out our reserves and leave the board with no option - either financially or legally - but to announce the closure of the orchestra," he told the council.

The strategic policy and resources committee of the council agreed at its meeting last Friday to offer £100,000 on condition that other funders also contribute to the orchestra's £500,000 shortfall.

This decision will have to be approved at a meeting of the full council next Monday.

Orchestra representatives have met Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin about its plight, and talks are ongoing along with the Arts Council to discuss potential future operating models and alternative funding mechanisms.

Ms Ni Chuilin said: "The orchestra needs to develop a long-term, sustainable approach to address its current financial difficulties. If the orchestra identifies a new sustainable operating model, I will give it serious consideration and, subject to receiving assurance it can be delivered, I will engage with Executive colleagues to assess how the Executive might support it."

Meanwhile, it can also be revealed that the City of Belfast Youth Orchestra has applied to the council for funding.

It has made a request for £25,000 towards the cost of a tour to the east coast of the US next July to celebrate its 60th anniversary.

The cost of the tour is approximately £180,000 and the Youth Orchestra expects to receive £105,000 from individual contributions and £50,000 through corporate sponsorship and fundraising.

The story so far...

The Ulster Orchestra has been struggling to survive following cuts to its funding by both the Arts Council and BBC.

To cope with this, it has requested lifesaving funding from Belfast City Council, the Arts Council and Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure.

A host of high-profile people have backed a campaign to save the orchestra from closure, including world renowned pianist Barry Douglas, virtuoso flautist Sir James Galway and writer Lucy Caldwell.

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