ARTS groups are being invited to put together a bid to run the Arts Centre, in Old Town.

It is part of a drive by Swindon Council to slash its annual subsidy for leisure and cultural services by £3.6m by April 2014.

The council is developing a leisure and culture commissioning change programme to look at alternative ways of providing such facilities and their associated economic and wellbeing benefits as Government funding reduces and demand, particularly for social care services, is set to soar.

The Arts Centre, in Devizes Road, was subsidised by £168,000 in 2012/13 and the council is considering ways to reduce or eliminate running costs at both the Arts Centre and the Wyvern Theatre.

The council held a public meeting at the Arts Centre on Friday evening to explain the financial challenges it was facing.

And the community was invited to submit a business plan to take over the Arts Centre before the council searches for a potential private or charitable provider.

Speaking to about 100 people, Helen Miah, the commissioner for leisure, libraries and culture, agreed to provide a “shopping list” of minimum requirements the council wanted to be included in a business plan from community groups.

She said: “If people want to have individual meetings, individual groups want to come and talk to me, please get in touch, let me know. “If you think there’s a need for a further open meeting, we will have further open meetings.

“I’m not saying I need a full expression of interest but we need to get a sense as to whether there are any community groups who would be interested. “What I don’t want to do is wait for months and months and months for you to make your mind up.”

Alan Wrixon, the chairman of the Friends Of Swindon Arts Centre, said the group was still considering the options but the information so far provided by the council was not sufficient to enable a business case to be put together.

He said: “It frightened the life out of us when we looked at it because we were going to have to find in the order of £170,000 to £180,000 a year. “We haven’t proceeded too far on that yet, there’s a lot of information that’s not there at the moment.”

Other attendees suggested Swindon Council should do more to save costs or increase income at the Arts Centre, by hiring it out as a business seminar venue.

They also recommended that it should seek corporate sponsorship from media giants Orange and Sky.

Resident Suzanne Bullimore said: “I come to the Arts Centre for something, I go into the ladies’ loo and it’s absolutely roasting – the heating is on full pelt. “As a housewife who looks after a budget, who has to be prudent, we look in our own households to keep those costs down.”

Coun Garry Perkins, the cabinet member for economy, regeneration and culture, agreed to investigate sponsorship opportunities and pledged to give full support to groups interested in making a bid.

He said he could not see the whole subsidy for the Arts Centre going, and said he expected leisure centres to see the most radical changes, citing the example of the Oasis, which has transferred to private hands.