ONE of Hampshire’s biggest arts events is facing a cash crisis.

Winchester Hat Fair bosses have frozen a back office post and cut the hours of its artistic director to save money.

It has also emerged the city council refused to advance a £40,000 lifeline to the street festival, which is waiting for £138,000 promised by the European Union.

As a result, the cash-strapped charity decided not to fill a vacant administrator post and to temporarily reduce the hours of artistic director Kate Hazel, the only other paid member of staff, who was already part-time.

Only last March the Hat Fair saw its Arts Council grant rocket from £80,000 a year to £140,000 for three years – putting its finances on a firmer footing.

Next month Hat Fair organisers are due to meet city council officials to plan the big public event.

Chris Turner, one of five directors of the Hat Fair, said: “We are in the middle of an interesting and tricky time. At the moment it is hard as we are having to book acts and plan next year’s festival.”

Named after the tradition of throwing money into hats, the Hat Fair has grown out of all recognition from humble beginnings in 1974 as a buskers’ fair.

Now it is an internationallyrenowned event with dozens of artists from across the world performing in the city’s ancient streets over four days in July and attracting thousands of people.

It also receives more public money than ever before. In total, the Hat Fair received £250,000 in grants in 2011. In addition to EU funding, the Arts Council has pledged £140,000, the city council £24,500 and the county council £5,000 in 2012.

However, the charity has been rapped over the knuckles by a watchdog body for failing to submit its annual accounts on time in previous years.

A spokesman for the Charity Commission said: “We note that the charity was late in filing its accounts for the year ending 2010, and has not yet filed annual documents for the year ending 2008.

“This is not acceptable. Trustees have a duty to file annual documents with the Commission and charities with incomes of over £25,000 are required to file accounts.

“Public trust and confidence in charities requires transparency and we would urge the trustees to take seriously their duties in this regard.”

The Hat Fair published accounts for the year ending March 2011 – the latest available – show the charity managed to reduce its deficit to £886 compared to £40,497 the previous year This summer the Hat Fair was dealt a heavy blow after being forced to cancel two of its biggest acts due to bad weather.

Councillor Robert Humby, deputy leader of Winchester City Council, said: “We want to be able to help the Hat Fair as it is a very important part of Winchester but in order to make a decision we need to clearly understand what its financial position is.

“We want details about when the EU funding will be paid and how secure it is – whether it has been signed-off by the EU.”