The service, which provides music lessons to around 7,000 children in schools across the county, could be axed by 2019 as part of cost-cutting measures by East Sussex County Council.
Today Bob Standley, lead member for education and inclusion, agreed to draw up proposals to close the instrumental teaching service but also made it clear the council would welcome bids from outside bodies to take it over.
Consultations would be held with the public from June and with staff from October.
Before the meeting students from the East Sussex Academy of Music based at Lewes’ Sussex Downs College braved the torrential rain to stage a musical demonstration outside County Hall.
A petition opposing the closure of the music instrumental service has already gained more than 10,000 signatures.
Several councillors argued a decision to consult on proposals should not be made before a full council debate on the petition, which could happen in July.
Others suggested the current wording gave the impression the Tory-led county council had already decided to close the service.
But Cllr Standley (Con, Wealden North East) said no decisions had been made yet, adding: “We are open to having proposals from other bodies and I have had a couple of emails with some proposals.”
A management and administrative restructure of the music service alongside efficiencies are already set to save the council £600,000.
But in order to make it financially sustainable and avoid cuts elsewhere in children’s services another £180,000 needs to be found.
Stuart Gallimore, director of children’s services, added: “This is not a foregone conclusion, this is not a done deal.
“This is about saying we are in a real tough spot.”
He continued: “This report is not as a result of some whim or something we are doing lightly but it’s something that needs to be considered in the round in light of the savings the county council is going to have to make.”
He described how the proposals would look to strengthen East Sussex’s offer to disadvantaged groups of young people.
If the instrumental service was closed, which could result in around 70 job losses, some services would still continue such as whole-class instrumental tuition and opportunities for children to play in ensembles through music centres and summer schools.
It is envisaged sixth-form provision would be retained through the East Sussex Academy of Music.
The prospect of closing the service was described as ‘disastrous’ even by Tory councillor John Barnes (Con, Rother North West).
But he suggested a consultation was necessary ‘to share the dilemma we are in’ with the public and have discussions about what the best location for the music service would be in the future so it could be preserved.
Bob Bowdler (Con, Hailsham Market) also argued the consultation should be held before councillors discussed the petition so that ideas could come forward to help the music service survive.
However Phil Boorman (Con, Seaford North) said: “It’s very difficult to stop a ball rolling down the road once it’s started.”
This was echoed by several other councillors.
Alan Shuttleworth (LDEm, Eastbourne - Langney) called for all councillors to have an opportunity to share their views before it went to consultation, while both Trevor Webb, leader of the Labour Group, and Stephen Shing, leader of the Independent Democrats, also backed deferring a decision.
Ruth O’Keeffe (Ind, Lewes) described being ‘utterly opposed’ to the closure of the music instrumental service, added: “Once you get as far as the consultation we know we have already crossed the Rubicon.”
Cllr Shuttleworth said: “Given the knock-on effect on so many people across the county this does not make financial sense.”
Meanwhile Kathryn Field (LDem, Battle and Crowhurst) added: “I think it would be sinful to withdraw the service from the children of this county.”
An officers’ report outlines how options including becoming an independent trust, merging with a neighbouring music service and moving teaching staff on to the single status pay scale have all been discounted for legal, technical and financial reasons.
On alternative options to closure, Cllr O’Keeffe asked: “What is left?”
Cllr Webb suggested they needed more detail on why alternative options for the music service had been discounted.
Sylvia Tidy (Con, Crowborough South and St Johns), lead member for children and families, said: “There are things were are having to do which honestly break my heart. We do not have enough money in East Sussex County Council to run the services that we need to run.”
David Elkin (Con, Eastbourne - Sovereign), lead member for resources, said: “I think the addition to the recommendation that you put ensures that people realise the door is open. If there are options out there let’s go with them.”
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