County dismisses parents’ protests

PARENTS’ protests about cuts to a popular children’s music programme have been dismissed by councillors.

A 443-name petition was submitted to Northumberland County Council in March objecting to a cost-cutting restructure of the Northumberland Creative and Performing Arts Service (NCPA).

The website campaign, led by Dr John Knapton, stated that the manner in which the cuts were being implemented would have a detrimental effect on provision, causing grave concern that high quality music tuition and ensemble playing for children would be put at risk.

But at a meeting of the authority’s Executive on Monday, councillors were told the changes will lead to a better service for the future.

Executive Member for Children and Young People Lesley Rickerby said: “Unfortunately there have been some parents of current students and ex-students who weren’t happy with the proposals that were being put forward, which I firmly believe will give a better service to our music students in the area.”

The NCPA was set up to modernise and broaden the range of performing arts opportunities for young people in the county’s schools, providing ensembles with rehearsals, residentials, concerts, competitions and tours, as well as curriculum support and teaching resources, piano tuning and instrument hire and maintenance services.

The re-structure involved the deleting of two Assistant Heads of Service posts, reducing the four team leaders to three and not filling an administration vacancy.

However, the two Assistant Heads requested voluntary redundancy and the one staff member at risk was appointed in the new post of ensemble co-ordinator.

No objections were received by Trade Unions or service staff during the consultation process and council Head of Early Years and Schools Tony Mays has reported that the new alignment of the service will make it better placed to respond to the local and national agenda around music provision, as well as contribute to the county’s wider cultural strategy.

He said that schools and families should not see much difference in provision and there will be enhanced opportunities for partnership work.

“There were no compulsory redundancies as a result of this re-structure, which is now complete,” he said.

“We do believe when looking at the budget for this year that we have created a music service which will continue to meet the music needs of the children of Northumberland both now and in the future.”

Coun Neil Bradbury added: “This has brought out how passionately kids and parents feel about this service and how they value the service and what a tip-top service it is. We do excel in this area.

“A lot of people are much calmer about the re-structure now it has been implemented all the way through. Concerns have now been relaxed.”

The petitioners declined to attend the meeting, but the Executive agreed that a formal response should be sent to them to provide reassurance about the service.