Arts Council gives pounds 15m lottery cash to pay debts

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The English National Opera, under fire for its plan to leave the London Coliseum and for its artistic standards, is to have its debts paid with money from the National Lottery.

Lottery money will be used for the first time to help pay off deficits of arts companies. Fifteen companies were named by the Arts Council yesterday to share pounds 15m under the new "stabilisation fund". The scheme involves providing organisations with "the advice and support needed to strengthen their operations and place them on a ... more stable basis".

Mary Allen, secretary-general of the Arts Council, said the fund should not be characterised as "a bail-out fund for deficits" but added: "Some of these awards will be for paying deficits, but that will not happen unless it is accompanied by a programme for change". The ENO has a deficit of more than pounds 3.5m.

The other 14 organisations are: Birmingham Rep; Blackheath Concert Halls; Bournemouth Orchestras; Bristol City Consortium; Cinema City, Norwich; Embroiderers' Guild; Hampshire county arts centres consortium; Inner City Music, Manchester; The Junction, Cambridge; London Symphony Orchestra; Northern Sinfonia; Sheffield Museums and Galleries Consortium; Tara Arts Group; the West Yorkshire Playhouse.