London Assembly objects to push to move English National Opera

The London Assembly has formally objected to the push by Arts Council England (ACE) to move the English National Opera (ENO) away from London.

In November the ACE announced plans to move the ENO because it is a national portfolio organisation.

The public body proposed the ENO receive a £17 million grant over three years, but only if it relocated outside of London with a move to Manchester suggested.

In April, it was announced the opera company would receive funding of up to £24 million from ACE to support a relocation.

Arts Council England previously announced plans to remove the English National Opera as a national portfolio organisation (Equity/PA)
Arts Council England previously announced plans to remove the English National Opera as a national portfolio organisation (Equity/PA)

On Thursday an event saw members of entertainment trade unions Equity and the Musicians’ Union gather to hear the motion passed.

The motion called for no job losses at the ENO as a result of funding cuts and demanded that Arts Council England “end its requirement for the ENO to establish a primary base out of London”.

Equity, which is representing chorus and stage management workers at the company, fears the relocation will lead to redundancies and rehiring creative workers on precarious freelance contracts.

Proposing the motion, Londonwide assembly member Elly Baker 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.”

She continued: “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 than 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 chief executive Darren Henley to address our concerns.”

A recent survey of the Equity members working at ENO revealed more than two-thirds of staff would quit the company and the profession if it were to relocate outside London.

Members cited ties that include children at school, caring responsibilities and partners with jobs in the capital.

ENO choristers industrial action
The English National Opera outside the London Coliseum (Laura Lean/PA)

Thursday’s motion also called on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to intervene with ACE and the Secretary of State for Culture over the proposed move.

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 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.”