Autumn is normally the time the big performing arts groups in Hong Kong finalise their programmes for the next season. Not this year. Many are still unable to confirm their 2010-11 lineups, and some are considering scrapping events already planned, because of uncertainties caused by a delay to government plans for a new funding system. Because of the delay, the Home Affairs Bureau has asked the groups to use the same budgets as in 2007-08. This requires cuts of between 10 per cent and 50 per cent. It has also told them there is no guarantee that current levels of public funding will continue. It will confirm at the end of this year how much they will receive next year for the 2010-11 season. Arts groups have been thrown into confusion, and some of their managers are angry. 'If funding for all major local performing arts groups is to go back to 2007/08 levels, then one wonders what all the talk about 'software cultivation' for the West Kowloon arts hub is about?' said Yip Wing-sie, music director of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, referring to government plans to foster artistic talent. The orchestra will have to trim its programme if its funding returns to 2007/08 levels. The first events to go would be innovative but more costly programmes, it says. 'The government has left us in the lurch,' says Clementine Chan Yee-man, managing director of the City Contemporary Dance Company. 'We have planned half our year based on the assumption our funding will remain constant, and we are unable to plan the other half ... We usually need to confirm venues for the next season by September.' The troupe may have to cancel a touring show of dance videos. Last week, Permanent Secretary for Home Affairs Carrie Yau Tsang Ka-lai reiterated the government's commitment to strengthening the arts and cultural 'software'. But experimental theatre group Zuni Icosahedron took little assurance from her words. If it must operate on the same funds as two years ago, it will have to cut its budget for the season by more than half, from HK$10.5 million to HK$4.8 million. Its inaugural month-long Architecture Is Art Festival - a programme of more than a dozen performances, forums and an exhibition on the art of architecture that is running until mid-October - would have to be dropped from next year's programme. The troupe's executive director, Mathias Woo Yan-wai, described the government request as 'ridiculous and absurd'. 'We'd have to cancel a lot of programmes and activities as a result. I might as well quit. It's an insult to a company that has produced works that have a social impact and also do well at the box office,' he said. The Home Affairs Bureau said it was aware some performing arts companies had begun planning for the 2010-11 season and it had 'therefore advised them that they should base their planning on the 2007-08 funding level at this stage'. A bureau spokesman said the groups had benefited from one-off increases in public funding for the previous and current seasons. Nine groups received additional funding of HK$45 million between them for these two seasons. The extra money was intended to encourage them to conduct more community outreach programmes, cushion the impact of inflation and pave the way for the new funding system, and also to show the government's commitment to the arts as it prepares to start work on the West Kowloon Cultural District - which will feature museums and several performing arts venues. Chan Kin-bun, executive director of the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, said the government had not made clear that this extra funding would only last two years. He is preparing to make changes to its plans for 2010-11 if the company has to revert to its 2007-08 budget, which would see its subsidy drop from the current HK$29.9 million to HK$26.6 million. He hopes a new funding system can be put in place soon. The funding system is being revamped in response to a report three years ago by the Committee on Performing Arts, a government advisory group. It recommended that the nine big publicly subsidised arts groups - the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, Repertory Theatre, Hong Kong Dance Company, the Contemporary Dance Company, Sinfonietta, Hong Kong Ballet, Zuni Icosahedron, and the Chung Ying Theatre Company - should be assessed using the same criteria to ensure fairness. It recommended new criteria, among them ensuring that the groups practise good governance. The bureau, responsible for financing the groups since 2007, blames the delay on the difficulty of recruiting a consultant to advise on how to develop a new funding system. Officials close to the project said it was decided the consultant should be familiar not only with the local arts scene but how funding works overseas. The bureau invited bids last year and received a handful of responses, one of the officials said. Some of the bids were excessive, but the bureau was very close to choosing one. A bureau spokesman said the year-long study, which should have been completed this summer, was scheduled to begin within the next two months. It expects a new funding scheme to be implemented for the 2012-13 season.