THE RICH MIX team are wishing their supporters a happy new year.
The cultural centre is remembered in Tower Hamlets for winning generous public subsidy and in particular for the controversial £850,00 loan it received from the Council some years ago. Whereas Mayor Lutfur Rahman wanted to see the loan paid back, at a time when funding was under great pressure, Labour’s John Biggs gave a pre-election promise that he would write the loan off. Despite the fact that government commissioners had taken over responsibility for grants, Biggs was allowed to write off the loan as soon as he assumed office. Unfortunately, Biggs did not make any pledges about keeping the budget for grants to the voluntary sector at a consistent level, and soon after he wrote off the £850,000 lent to the Rich Mix, he reduced the budget for the voluntary sector and several small after school clubs and homework clubs were forced to close.
The centre continues to receive strong support from several prominent Labour figures, with the Board led by “Professor Michael Keith, University of Oxford” – formerly known as the Labour Leader of the Council who lost his council seat after the Labour Government joined in the invasion of Iraq. Three current Labour Councillors also serve on the Board. “Denise Jones, Eastside Bookshop founder and local resident” is also known as Labour Councillor Denise Jones, former Cabinet Member for Culture. Cllr Asma Begum, billed as “London Borough of Tower Hamlets Councillor”, is Labour’s current Cabinet Member for Culture. Cllr Candida Ronald is also billed as “London Borough of Tower Hamlets Councillor”. She has some experience in the arts: her entry in the Council’s Register of Interests reveals that she is employed by the Alternative Theatre Company Ltd. One of the three patrons is Baroness Oona King, who famously lost her parliamentary seat to George Galloway, again after the Labour Government had invaded Iraq.
The Rich Mix itself claims that 115,000 people bought tickets for an event at Rich Mix in 2014/15 – generating an income of £150,000 – and 35,000 people attended free events. That’s 150,000 – each of whom received a subsidy of £5, if the written off Council loan had been divided among them. It also says that it gave away 4,521 hours of free rehearsal space worth over £315,000: had it been paid for the space, it could have repaid the loan in less than three years. The 20 creative organisations based at the Rich Mix apparently have a turnover of £23 million per year: if each of these organisations contributed just 3.7% of that turnover, the Centre could have paid off that Council loan.
It is not that local residents have anything against the Rich Mix Centre. It is just that the Council usually has to sit down and decide its funding priorities as a whole. The Commissioners came into Tower Hamlets and took over the grants process precisely because there were rumours that grants were being distributed unfairly, and without due process. They way in which they allowed the Rich Mix loan to be written off after John Biggs’s pre-election commitment to do so is in sharp contrast to the way in which they perused grant applications made after he had been elected. If the Rich Mix decided, in view of the massive cuts which the Council is now experiencing and which it is passing on to local residents, to repay the £850,000 loan, we could all have a happy New Year.