LAST week the Halle Orchestra, one of Britain's best known and best loved orchestras, now playing at the new, much praised Bridgewater Hall, was threatened with closure. The changes to funding of the arts that we are advocating might have prevented the crisis.

The Manchester-based orchestra, which does have charitable status, receives pounds 500,000 in commercial sponsorship, and pounds 150,000 in individual donations. Katharine Russell, director of development at the Halle, says: "We would certainly double that pounds 150,000 if there were more incentives to encourage people to give."

With the Halle annual loss around pounds 600,000, such a figure could have lessened the debts substantially. But without a simple change in the law, people will continue to be put off giving to their favourite orchestra.

Catherine Impett, development manager at the Halle, gives a graphic example. "The problems we have encountered include 'priority booking' for concerts for those people who give a substantial sum of money. This apparently is a financial benefit to the donor," she says. "We see it as purely a way of thanking an individual for their donation at no cost to the Halle. More and more donors these days are looking for benefits in return for their charitable gifts and it is difficult to compile a suitable list of benefits that fall within the percentage of the gift that is allowable when reclaiming tax from the Inland Revenue."

Her colleague Ms Russell says: "In the USA there are far more incentives. Where we are missing out is in offering people the incentives to consider giving. We should bring down the gift aid threshold. At the moment you only get tax relief on sums over pounds 250. But there are people who would like to give pounds 200 or pounds 100, and they should be entitled to relief too."

Indeed, the Halle puts a box to tick in its programme for potential donors prepared to give pounds 100. It would be a far more effective "sell" if the orchestra could add a programme note saying donors would get tax relief. And those relatively small sums would enable the orchestra to send musicians into a school for a day.

As it is, the orchestra's management is coming up with more radical ideas than the Treasury or the Department of Culture have managed. It is exploring the idea of "in memoriam" donations. So, if someone's parents loved the Halle they could make a donation in their parents' memory and be entitled to a new "in memoriam" tax relief, if the Treasury were seized by the notion.

The Halle has a society of members numbering 3,500 who all pay pounds 26 to join. In addition there are 30 individual donors who give larger sums, 35 business sponsors and 100 corporate members. There is scope for a considerable increase in giving from a community who are proud of their city's orchestra. But as the orchestra's own management complains: "The incentives are not there."

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