A FORMER theatre manager has emphasised the importance of maintaining a Basildon venue amid concerns that it was under review as a council looks to reduce its costs.

Billericay man Vin Harrop said the Towngate Theatre in St Martin’s Square provided entertainment for the town’s young and prevented them from engaging in more harmful pastimes as the council looks to fill a £9million funding shortfall caused by government cuts.

A number of services are under review and the council’s leader Phil Turner has warned that services were going to have to change, with some either ‘not going to be there in the future or be delivered differently.’ Other services that are going to be reviewed include the Wat Tyler Country Park and day centres.

Mr Harrop has written to councillor Stuart Sullivan, who is responsible for resources, suggesting the Towngate worked with other nearby theatres to arrange joint programmes to reduce costs and include more adventurous events.

He said: “They don’t seem to have any plan. Until I suggested that they put on a pantomime, nobody had ever thought about it. They ought to look at maybe extending the pantomime and working with other theatres.

“They could work together with other theatres to reduce the budget and see how much it costs. “They could bring a production into two or three theatres by working together which would help to reduce the costs.”

In his letter, the former manager at the London Palladium and Empire theatre in Liverpool suggested working with the Palace theatre in Westcliff, Queens in Hornchurch, the Harlow Playhouse, the Civic in Chelmsford or the Mercury theatre in Colchester.

The authority plans to impose a 1.99 percent council tax rise to reduce the impact of the cuts, which is the highest increase that can be imposed without holding a public referendum and will mark the end of a five year tax freeze.

It will add £5.04 to the annual bill for a band D property- a total of £257.85- and households can expect similar rises in the future.

However, Mr Turner said there were no plans to sell the theatre, adding that all services offered by the council were being reviewed to see where savings could be made.

He said: “Our services have to be under review because we can’t come along in four years time and say ‘we are just going to carry on doing this as we are doing and by the way we are going to have this black hole of £9m.’”

Lisa Smith, who runs the Laboratory Arts Studio at Wat Tyler Country Park, said she would be concerned about any changes at the country park.

She added: “The site is hugely important. It is one of the very few fun spaces that a family can go to and there are groups there that provide education and support and it would be shocking if anything happened to the park.”