The future of the East Sussex Music Instrumental Service has been debated this week after more than 12,000 people called on councillors to prevent its closure.
East Sussex County Council is currently holding a public consultation on proposals to cease the service, which teaches children to play musical instruments in small groups or through one-to-one lessons.
Parents have criticised the proposals with one mum calling the cuts ‘appalling’.
In recent weeks, campaigners who oppose the closure presented the Conservative-led council with a petition of more than 12,000 signatures, triggering the debate held at a full council meeting on Tuesday (July 10).
Speaking on behalf of the petitioners, music teacher Jane Humberstone said: “We hope the council recognises the savings and sacrifices the music service has already made and that they grant us a sufficient period of time – perhaps three years- to achieve a resolution through alternative plans or the kind of merger that has already been proposed.
“We would like to express our gratitude to the thousands of people, locally and nationally, including some very notable people in the arts and entertainment industry, who have signed our petition and supported our campaign.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Alan Shuttleworth called on the council to withdraw the proposals in light of the ‘enormous public response’, putting any cuts on hold until an alternative plan could be put in place to keep the instrumental service open.
Cllr Shuttleworth said: “There is an opportunity today to actually stop this cut at this moment in time and go back and look at all the proposals whatever the source and find another way of keeping the service in the council.”
The motion was seconded by Labour councillor Godfrey Daniel and supported by the Independent and Independent Democrat groups, after agreeing to merge it with a similar motion put forward by Independent group leader Ruth O’Keeffe.
However the cross-party motion was defeated by the Conservative group, which controls the county council as its largest party.
The Conservative group instead backed a motion by the lead member for education Bob Standley, which called on the council to ‘explore a realistic, sustainable future strategy for the East Sussex Music Instrumental Service’.
Putting forward his motion, Cllr Standley said ‘things had moved on’ since he first made his recommendation on the proposals in April and that the council had been working with interested parties about the potential of running the service outside of the council.
Cllr Standley said: “My wish has always been to find a long-term solution. It needs to be a solution which is sustainable, not one where the general taxpayer is having to subsidise families who maybe can afford to pay a bit more as mentioned in the consultation.”
Cllr Standley’s motion received support from fellow Conservative councillor John Barnes, who praised the instrumental service but said its future lies ‘off of the county council books’ due to budget pressures.
He said: “I am very anxious that the lead member looks at an alternative to take the music service completely out of the county council.
“Whether that is done by way of a Community Interest Company (CIC), by way of a trust or whoever, the only way we are going to maintain a music service for East Sussex is if it is no longer on the books of the county council and is no longer being supported at the expense of other core services.”
Concerns over this approach were raised by Cllr Daniel, who praised Cllr Barnes’ work as a long-time member of the former East Sussex Music Service Management Committee and criticised the Conservative group for planning to close it.
Cllr Daniel said: “Cllr Barnes always has good ideas on this topic, but I am wary over privatising it because I believe in local government and public service.
“That is what we do and that is what these teachers do, working with young people.”
Cllr Daniel also criticised central Government for the council’s financial situation, calling on the Conservative group to ‘stand up’ to Westminster by refusing to make cuts to the instrumental service.
He added: “I’m sure we have the Prime Minister’s support, after all she is engaged in a game of musical chairs in her cabinet. Music has a resonance even in Number 10.”
If approved following the public consultation, the instrumental service is expected to close in September 2019.
The public consultation runs until Friday, July 27.
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