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Double blow to an old tradition

Fears abound that Wales' proud musical tradition could be severely damaged by the break-up of the county councils to make way for new single-tier councils.

Concern is widespread that the creation of 22 unitary authorities will force music services to split, threaten residential courses, and perhaps have a devastating effect on youth orchestras.

All eight county councils took part in the TES survey. Of these, six said they were seriously worried about the effects of the local government review and hoped to be able to provide a combined service.

In West Glamorgan, which is to become two unitary authorities, Phillip Emanuel, the music service manager, said if the service were split, management costs would double, charity support dwindle, and he and his staff would have difficulty finding high-quality players for national brass band and other championships.

"We got through LMS despite being cut to the bone. We now have only one LEA-funded music manager, a secretary and an office, but we're actually reaching more children because schools, which now pull the purse-strings, are keen to see value for money and get more pupils involved," he explained. "At the moment, the Friends of West Glamorgan Youth Music provide terrific support. If a child is not very well off, they step in and pay. I can't see them being willing to give the same level of help to two music services."

Keith Ellerington, director of music at Gwent County Council, which is to split into five, said if his service were divided all county bands could disintegrate.

And Emyr Wynne Jones, advisorinspector for music for Dyfed, which is to be split into three, said: "One quarter of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales comes from Dyfed, but will the three new authorities be prepared to share the cost of a combined orchestra or will it simply crumble? We just don't know. "

Seven of the LEA's are now charging schools for music, the survey shows. The price varies from Pounds 17 an hour in South Glamorgan to Pounds 22.50 an hour in Gwynedd, and part or all of the cost is then passed on to parents. Only Mid-Glamorgan still provides a wholly centrally-funded service.

Six councils say their youth orchestras and bands are holding up, but two authorities - West Glamorgan and Powys - say they are struggling. Phillip Emanuel explained: "Now schools are pulling the purse strings they want to see a value for money service. They want more children involved, but fewer are reaching the high grades so quality is suffering. Also, children are opting for easier, cheaper instruments so it's difficult to find oboists of any great standard for example."

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