Lib Dem accuses Assembly of 'cultural vandalism'. Jayne Isaac reports
Ministers were warned about the impact on poorer children of cuts in funding for schools music - but went ahead anyway.
Letters released to Eleanor Burnham, North Wales Liberal Democrat AM, under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Welsh Arts Council chairman Geraint Talfan Davies told the Assembly government in April 2004 that the impact of reducing the budget of its music development fund (MDF) from pound;3.5 million to pound;1.9m would be "considerable". He warned that it would have the worst effect on those children whose parents could not pay for tuition, contrary to government objectives.
The MDF was set up in 1999 and has provided tuition, instruments and workshops for more than 60,000 children.
The funding is no longer ring-fenced and is now paid to local authorities as part of the revenue support grant. An Estyn report published earlier this year (TES Cymru, April 21) confirmed that the changes to the fund had resulted in cuts to music provision.
Meanwhile, special music funding in England has increased from pound;60m a year to pound;90m guaranteed to 2008. Scotland has also approved a pound;17m increase over the next three years.
Ms Burnham has challenged First Minister Rhodri Morgan, culture minister Alun Pugh and education, lifelong learning and skills minister Jane Davidson to reinstate both the funding and the ring-fencing.
"The government is guilty of cultural vandalism," she said. "Ministers were told in 2004 how successful the fund was and yet they cut the budget. Where will our singers and musical stars of the future come from in Wales?"
The West Glamorgan Music Service, which covers Neath Port Talbot and Swansea, saw the number of schools sending pupils to the county youth orchestra and bands rise from four in 1999 to 22 in 2004. The service's Philip Emanuel said that, thanks to the MDF, the number of children being taught music in schools covered by West Glamorgan had risen from 8,500 to 17,500.
"We doubled the number of children but we are struggling to maintain this,"
said Mr Emanuel.
"Wales has had a 37 per cent cut, while England and Scotland have seen substantial increases."
Keith Ellerington, principal officer for music and the arts in Caerphilly, said it had been forced to take pound;60,000 out of the budget, resulting in a 5 per cent drop in the number of pupils taking part in musical activities - reducing from 27 per cent of the school population to 22 per cent.
An Assembly government spokesperson said it had provided pound;17m between 1999 to 2005 to support music development in Wales, and an extra pound;1.9m a year was being put in the revenue support grant which councils could manage themselves.
For more on the music development fund and a campaign led by more than 30 top Welsh musicians listen to Eye on Wales, BBC Radio Wales, Sunday July 16 at 6am, www.bbc.co.ukwales