London Assembly Formally Objects to ACE Decision to Move ENO from London

London Assembly made a unanimous cross party call for Arts Council to end its requirement to move ENO outside of London.

By: Jun. 08, 2023
London Assembly Formally Objects to ACE Decision to Move ENO from London

The London Assembly has today (Thursday 8 June) formally raised its objection to the Arts Council's shock decision to defund the English National Opera and require it to move out of London, in a motion receiving cross party support.

ENO workers who are members of entertainment trade unions Equity and the MU, packed the public gallery on Thursday afternoon, along with campaign supporters, to hear the motion passed unanimously.

Assembly members speaking in support included Andrews Boff (Conservatives), Joanne McCartney (Labour), Ann Clarke (Labour), Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem), Zack Polanski (Greens), Sakina Sheikh (Labour).

The motion called for no job losses at the ENO as a result of funding cuts, and demanded that Arts Council England (ACE) “end its requirement for the ENO to establish a primary base out of London,” a move that Equity, the union representing chorus and stage management workers at the company, fears will lead to redundancies and rehiring creative workers on precarious, freelance contracts.

A recent survey of the union's members working at ENO shows that more than two-thirds of staff would quit the ENO and the profession all together if the company relocates outside London, because of ties that include children at school, caring responsibilities, and partners with jobs in the capital.

The motion, was moved by Joanne McCartney AM at the London Assembly's plenary session, and called on the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to intervene with ACE and the Secretary of State for Culture over the proposed move.

Any such move outside of London will cause significant job losses at the Opera Company, due to the derisory funding offered by ACE to the ENO to facilitate the move. Chorus members currently engaged at the ENO represent one third of the permanent opera chorus workforce in the country, and the stage management roles are rare permanent jobs in the industry. Equity believes that the costs of a move outside of London would require the ENO to make redundancies to these high quality, unionised roles and reengage people on precarious, freelance contracts.

Elly Baker, Londonwide Assembly Member proposing the motion, said:

“I am delighted to put forward this motion to protect a vital part of London's economy, and the unionised workers who make culture happen in our city.

“By adopting this motion today, the London Assembly will make clear to the Arts Council that they need to stop their badly thought out, rushed plan to move the ENO outside of London. The impact on the lives and livelihoods of the workers at the ENO is clear. Families and careers have been hanging in the balance for months, it needs to stop.

“The chorus and stage management workers at the ENO deserve better from the Arts Council that this rushed decision.

“The Arts Council should listen to the concerns of the London Assembly, expressed this afternoon in our motion and receiving cross party support, and I look forward to the offer of a meeting with ACE CEO Darren Henley to address our concerns.”

David John Newman, a worker at the ENO and Equity Deputy for the ENO Chorus said:

“The wholesale Arts Council England funding cuts are having a profound impact on the entire creative industry. The Sword of Damocles hangs menacingly over the English National Opera whilst ACE are insistent they move to a principal base outside the South East.

“The impact of this uncertainty on the workforce, and in particular Equity members at the ENO, is causing huge anxiety and mental stress as members are unsure whether they will still have a job, even if they could feasibly move to a new location.

“This decision would deprive London of one of its most creative, diverse and accessible arts organisations. Levelling up is not about felling a well-established tree and plonking it somewhere else in the hope it will flourish, but leaving it where it is and feeding it further so that its fruit can be planted elsewhere to create new and exciting opportunities for all.”

Lottie Stables, Industrial Official responsible for Opera, said:

“We are hopeful of cross-party support for this motion, to demonstrate to Arts Council England that this is an issue of serious concern for the city's politicians, and not a niche issue they can sweep under the carpet.

“Our members at ENO have campaigned relentlessly to save the ENO that we all know and love. It's a cultural institution that makes opera affordable and accessible to new audiences with successful outreach programmes, subsidised tickets and its programme of work sung in English. All of this, and our members' livelihoods, are being put at risk by an ill-conceived requirement establish a primary base out of London. Equity will continue to defend our members' jobs, and fight for properly funded opera accessible to all – including working class Londoners.”

The following motion has been proposed in the name of Elly Baker AM and will be seconded by Joanne McCartney AM:

“This Assembly recognises the huge success of the English National Opera's (ENO) efforts to make opera affordable and accessible to its audiences, and the importance of the company's presence in London to the city's cultural offering and economy.

This Assembly remains concerned about the impact to London's economy and access to culture, following the Government's instruction to the Arts Council England (ACE) to reduce its overall current investment in the National Portfolio in London.

This Assembly objects to Arts Council England's insistence that the ENO must move out of London; recalling the unwarranted impact this will have on the lives and livelihoods of ENO workers, represented by Equity, BECTU and the Musicians' Union; as well as the adverse impact this will have on London's cultural sector and the economy.

This Assembly reiterates the need for strong funding for the arts at all levels in all parts of the UK, noting the success of Opera North, previously ENO North; but believes that public funding of opera across the country must not come at the cost of Londoners.

This Assembly calls for:

1.     The Arts Council England to end its requirement for the ENO to establish a primary base out of London;

2.     No job losses at the ENO, and calls on affected parties, including the Arts Council England, to hold talks directly with the affected trade unions and their members, to reach a negotiated settlement;

3.     The Arts Council England to ensure that funding changes do not result in any negative impact to Londoners and that a full programme of offers and events at affordable prices remains at the ENO in London;

4.     The Mayor to write to Arts Council England expressing concern at their plans to remove significant cultural institutions such as the ENO from London and calling on them to change their requirements for the ENO to have a primary base outside of London;

5.     The Mayor to call on the Secretary of State for Culture to provide the funding necessary to keep ENO's primary base in London to ensure that levelling up does not lead to a loss of cultural offerings or jobs to Londoners.”

An Arts Council England spokesperson said:

"As a condition of receiving a 2% increase to our budget at the 2021 spending review, we were instructed by government in February 2022 to move £24m a year out of the London portfolio of funded organisations by 2025, and spread funding in the capital to more boroughs. Change in how we invested in London was inevitable, and with the budget available to us we had to make difficult decisions between good applications to support all types of cultural work and make sure the spread of this public investment was reaching more people, in more places.

"We understand there is a challenging period of transition for the company and its staff and have invested £11.46 million to support the English National Opera (ENO) in 2023-24. In addition up to £24 million is available to the ENO for 2024-26 to support a phased transition to a new artistic and business model, and will include work split between their new primary base and the London Coliseum."


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