At this moment local authority services have not yet all been lost – but the plans for the savage further cuts required to achieve balanced budgets up to 2020 are already in place*. So it seems a timely moment to publicise what is happening.
As a mature student on Hereford College of Art Portfolio course I decided make a piece in response to ongoing government cuts, originally responding to the loss of social capital as voluntary groups shut due to loss of public funding. I find it sad that these organisations are often not publicly mourned in the way that we mark the loss of individuals – though we are all the poorer for their going.
It proved difficult to get time to work with the overstretched staff in the voluntary sector so I decided to focus on the impact of cuts to the arts instead – another area where social capital is being rapidly eroded. I was surprised to find very few explicit artistic responses to the current cuts in arts funding in the UK – all the cuts stories are illustrated with artists at work. This vacuum seems strange as it seems inevitable that many jobs and valued institutions in the arts will be lost as these cuts continue.
The idea for a satirical film came as a way to get across the ridiculousness and short sightedness of the cuts process and what is lost when apparently innocuous amounts are repeatedly removed from a service’s budgets. I hope the comedy of the story will also spark questions in people’s minds about what is happening and how they might respond.
I have long wondered whether it is best to light a candle of curse the darkness or, put another way, whether to focus on uncovering the negative so it can be resisted or looking ahead to possible positive ways forward. At this time, despite my natural optimism, it seems apt to focus on the ravages council cuts are inflicting on provision of local services. The public seems to have little awareness or understanding of the richness and contribution to local well being that council services and grants have provided until it impacts on them directly, though sadly at this point it is usually too late to respond effectively.
I worked in local government for 20 years so my considerable knowledge of what the sector offers and the challenges faced motivates me. I am especially keen that people understand the vital role of trained staff in running a sustainable service as more volunteers become part of the mix. Sadly local authority staff are often not in a position to speak out about what is happening, so they need allies outside the council in order to show what is happening and struggle together to find creative ways forward.
It would be ironic if the result of making this film were to focus attention just on libraries – the wider point of the work is to show that as one among many valuable services that are in the process of being lost. More works on the same theme are needed! I’ve found the process of making my first film with a zero budget in well under 2 months challenging and absorbing. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Trish Marsh, June 2016
* ‘Savings’ are laid out in Council Medium Term Financial Statements