Northern Ireland

Ulster Orchestra: Chairman appears before Stormont's culture committee

Ulster Orchestra
Image caption The Ulster Orchestra employs 63 musicians and 17 staff

The Ulster Orchestra has told Stormont's culture committee it cannot cut more staff to save money, while it tackles a £500,000 gap in funding.

It has already reduced administrative staff from 23 to 18 and employs 63 musicians.

The orchestra said it is negotiating with musicians to get rid of what it calls "restrictive practices".

The orchestra assured MLAs it is trying to become less Belfast-centred.

Sir George Bain, the executive chairman, told the committee it could send smaller groups of musicians out to towns that could not accommodate the full orchestra.

He also added that musicians were paid full salaries even when not giving performances, but their contracts mean they could not be used for other projects, without extra payment.

Earlier this month, Sir George revealed the orchestra would be forced to close by the end of the year unless it received £500,000 in emergency funding.

Sir George Bain's warning came as he revealed the details behind a rescue plea to Belfast City Council that could mean a name change for the orchestra.

It costs about £4.5m a year to run the Ulster Orchestra.

Rescue plan

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Media captionSir George Bain, the executive chairman, said the orchestra model was currently "not viable"

It said it had lost 28% of funding from public sources - the equivalent of £1m - in the past four years.

In a bid to survive, it has asked Belfast City Council to back a rescue plan that includes a £500,000 funding guarantee to keep it solvent until March next year when it would be restructured.

It is also asking for the free use for the next five years of the Ulster Hall, which costs about £160,000 a year.

According to Sir George, the orchestra could end up changing its name to something like the Belfast Symphony if the rescue plan was accepted.

If the money is not forthcoming, the orchestra is warning it could go into administration before Christmas and close not long afterwards.

It is the only full-time professional orchestra in Northern Ireland, and plays the majority of its concerts in Belfast's Ulster Hall and the Waterfront Hall.

The BBC gives financial support of £639,000 a year to the orchestra.

Belfast City Council has yet to respond to the orchestra's request for additional funding.

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