New Labour council reverses Lib Dem cuts

artnf'Enjoying art at Graves Galler
artnf'Enjoying art at Graves Galler
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GRAVES Art Gallery is to have its old opening hours restored after Sheffield Council’s new Labour administration announced it would reverse budget cuts made by the Lib Dems.

Museums Sheffield, the trust which looks after the city’s galleries and museums, had slashed opening at the Surrey Street exhibition space.

The gallery was initially threatened with closure after the council decided to reduce the trust’s £2.3 million budget by £328,000 during 2011/12 – but the cuts were reduced to £279,000 after a public outcry.

Graves Art Gallery’s current reduced hours are 10am to 2pm on Thursday and Friday, and 11am to 3pm on Saturday. It used to open six days a week, for longer hours. Museums Sheffield has also reduced hours at the Millennium Galleries and Weston Park Museum and is making nine of its 105 staff redundant, with others on reduced working hours.

New Sheffield Council leader Coun Julie Dore said: “I can confirm that we will be restoring funding to Graves Art Gallery, as we promised to do. We need to sit down with the trust to discuss how much it will cost to restore the opening hours to what they were before the Lib Dem cuts.”

Details of the possible cost and extra funding required have not been revealed.

The Lib Dems’ budget, approved in March, includes provision to write off a £1.7 million debt incurred by Museums Sheffield – because the then council administration believed it would never be repaid.

The debts mostly dated back to the redevelopment of Weston Park Museum in 2006 when unforeseen structural problems delayed its scheduled opening and increased costs but also include a bailout given to Museums Sheffield by the council in August last year as a short-term measure to ease cash flow problems.

Former Lib Dem cabinet member for finance, Coun Simon Clement Jones said: “The new administration should make sure it knows what is going on there before making any sort of commitment like this.

“To restore the opening hours, they will have to take money from somewhere else in the council’s budget which would lead to a different cut. You can’t spend money twice.”

When details of the potential £1.7 million debt write-off were revealed, Museums Sheffield said an independent financial review commissioned by Sheffield Council last year concluded the trust was operating efficiently but was ‘critically under-funded’ for the service it provides.