A last ditch attempt to save funding for a music programme that benefits hundreds of children in Dundee fell on deaf ears on Thursday night.
In a crunch budget meeting held online, SNP councillors — who make up the majority on the council — voted to approve the party’s budget and end financial support for charity-run Big Noise Douglas.
Douglas is one of the most disadvantaged areas in the city.
And the scheme teaches music to more than 500 children from Claypotts Castle and St Pius Primary Schools as well as their associated nurseries.
Douglas parents Kara Donald and Marc Nugent told councillors of the huge benefit to both their children and the wider community.
Lochee representative Charlie Malone described it as “one of the most emotional deputations” he has ever heard.
Deputations leave emotions running high
His party Labour, alongside the Lib Dems, had unsuccessfully argued the funding should continue.
Marc, a dad-of-four, said: “Money shouldn’t dictate the world, so why is it dictating our kids’ future by removing the funding for the Big Noise programme?
“Big Noise gives children in our community a purpose. It is somewhere for them to learn, to be themselves, and helps them achieve bigger things in life.
“The Big Noise staff take time and care to get to know our children and our community.
“Trust is hard-earned – never underestimate the value of what it means to a community and to young people.”
Speaking afterwards, Nicola Killean, chief executive of Sistema Scotland, said the decision has broken a promise by the council.
She says it had agreed to provide the majority of the programme’s funding from 2021/22 onwards.
“This is a devastating decision for the community of Douglas,” she said.
“For the council to so brazenly break its promise to children, young people and their families is heart-breaking.
“Over the past five years in Douglas, we have provided respectful and empowering support to help young people reach their full potential.
“Our work is more important than ever, which is why it is so upsetting that councillors have abandoned the Douglas community.
“We will now have to assess the full impact of this shocking decision, and we are appealing to anyone who can support us to donate to the future of Big Noise Douglas.”
£900,000 in funding withdrawn
Despite the move it’s understood operator Sistema Scotland will try to continue the initiative but heavily scaled back.
The decision means the crucial £300,000 of annual council funding will be withdrawn from the next academic year in August.
It will also not continue in 2024/25 or 2025/26, meaning total cuts of £900,000 over the next three years.
A petition appealing for the funding to continue has so far reached almost 1,500 signatures.
Despite striking the right chord with a passionate plea, the pair will be among hundreds left devastated by the decision.
After questions from councillors who wanted to understand the impact of pulling funding, Marc said: “All that they (the children taking part) know is that something that they liked, something that they worked hard at, is being taken away.
“That could knock them down and leave them thinking ‘well why should I work hard at anything else in life?’
“It has helped them with so many different aspects in life.”
Kara added: “These children are coming away too young that politics can be a negative impact in their lives.”
SNP councillors were keen to stress the council already has an instrumental music service that they argue has some of the same benefits as the Big Noise programme.
Council leader John Alexander, SNP councillor for Strathmartine, said he recognises Big Noise is a “really great project”.
But he stressed severe financial pressures mean the party’s budget must focus on programmes that provide the “biggest benefit to the biggest cohort” of the local population.
I urge @DundeeCouncil councillors to keep their promise to the #BigNoise Douglas community and work with @sistemascotland to help create an inclusive society. Please invest in our children’s future. If you share my passion, sign the petition at https://t.co/M8OET8ve9s
— Nicola Benedetti (@NickyBenedetti) February 22, 2023
The idea behind the scheme, which also operates in Raploch (Stirling), Torry (Aberdeen), Westerhailes (Edinburgh) and Govanhill (Glasgow), is that it improves confidence among youngsters in deprived areas.
Prior to the meeting one of Scotland’s best known classical performers, Nicola Benedetti, also joined the choir of voices calling for a rethink.
The Grammy-award winning violinist described the lessons as a “transformational social intervention programme”.