Cambridge City councillors divided over Parker’s Piece art installation

art17:22 Monday 7th October 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Now a question that’s being posed to councils up and down the country right now: how can you justify spending on the arts, and other arguably non-urgent projects, at a time of austerity measures?
Cambridge City Council tomorrow will discuss new proposals for the Football Rules public art project for Parkers Piece. They want four shortlisted artists to be paid one thousand five hundred pounds each to submit ideas. So, is that really money well spent when costs are so critically being examined, services being cut, and jobs are under threat? Well joining me now from the ruling LibDems is Andrea Reiner, Executive Councillor for Public Places. Andrea Hello.
CHRIS MANN: And from the opposition Labour Group, Cllr George Owers. Hi George.
CHRIS MANN: So Andrea, just tell us. What is this money going to be spent on, and can you justify it at a time like this?

ANDREA REINER: Well absolutely. The first point to note that we’ve said before is the money’s ring fenced. So as much as we would like to spend it for example on potholes, we’re not able to. It’s ring fenced for these types of projects.
CHRIS MANN: Should it be?
ANDREA REINER: Yes I do, I actually very much do think it should be. This isn’t Council money. It’s developer contributions. So it’s money that developers have given to the Council. And the idea is basically to mitigate what’s happening with developments. And I’m also a strong believer in public art. A lot of people can’t go to museums. Don’t have time. It’s a way for people to enjoy the arts.
CHRIS MANN: So just sum up for us. How much is being spent on this? There’s one thousand five hundred pounds times four. And then the winner gets how much?
ANDREA REINER: The whole, the entire budget is a hundred and fifteen k.
CHRIS MANN: A hundred and fifteen thousand.
ANDREA REINER: Which is actually quite a lot less than the favourite pet project of some people, the Subbuteo project which is clocking in at a hundred and sixty k. So ..
CHRIS MANN: George Owers from the Labour Group. What do you think of that?
GEORGE OWERS: Well I think that in this current time of austerities, a little bit ridiculous to be spending a hundred and fifteen thousand pounds on one project. But I’m not against public art in general, completely. I think there is a place for it. The more profound question I think is surely this should be in tune with popular taste. And it shouldn’t be decided by a small group of people who deem themselves to be a public art elite, who decide favoured artists in a closed tender. The public should have a clear say. We’ve had examples recently of projects such as the Snowy Farr Memorial, which cost fifty grand itself, which is not well-loved. It’s basically a liquorice allsort man as it’s been widely nicknamed. And that was because there wasn’t really any real public, or certainly no binding public consultation.
CHRIS MANN: Before we move on to the elitist argument you’re making there, you still think that money should be spent on art at this time George, even as there are people fearing for their jobs, their cutbacks in services and so on?
GEORGE OWERS: There are two elements to this question. The first element is the public planning framework within which this is decided is the Local Plan, and that’s it. It’s already in the Local Plan. My personal ..
CHRIS MANN: Why not change the Local Plan? Is that too simple?
GEORGE OWERS: My personal view ..
CHRIS MANN: Sorry. Why don’t .. not .. I can ask both of you. Why not change the Local Plan? Things are tough. Why not change it? Can’t you do that? Move it into a different budget.
ANDREA REINER: We could change the Local Plan going forward, but this money is past. It’s from past development, so ..
GEORGE OWERS: But the thing is that Andrea talks as if this is a generous voluntary contribution from developers. But it’s not. It’s effectively a tax that’s levied on the Council. Councils have discretion as to whether they levy effectively a tax to also pay for public art. And I think that maybe this is something I think that I personally might have overlooked when we .. the Local Plan has been going through recently. I will admit that. But I do think that now this has come to my attention I think we do need to ask a question. certainly one per cent basically is I think the current figure on developments. So I think one per cent of the contributions made by the developers. I think that maybe rather a high number.
CHRIS MANN: OK. People I’m sure are wondering, hang on a second. If the household budget changes, and there are changes to your circumstances, you amend what you’re spending. Why doesn’t the Council amend it. Put this in a different budget.
ANDREA REINER: This money can’t be moved to a different pot.
CHRIS MANN: Why not?
ANDREA REINER:¬†Because it’s ring fenced.
CHRIS MANN: Why is it ring fenced?
ANDREA REINER: Because that’s the nature of the legislation.
CHRIS MANN: Well you need to change it, don’t you?
CHRIS MANN: At a time of austerity. You know, we were just discussing the spending on care homes and all that kind of stuff.
CHRIS MANN: And at the same time that people are only getting fifteen minutes, not necessarily in Cambridge, for their caring.
CHRIS MANN: You’re putting up a piece of art that’s costing a hundred and fifteen thousand pounds.
GEORGE OWERS: Can I just say it’s not true that Government says that all local authorities have to spend a certain amount on public art. As a matter of fact that’s simply not true. There are some governments around the world where that is true. That’s not true in the British case. There is local discretion on what Section 106 is levied on. And as to my personal view, I think we need to look at this again, because times are tough, and I’m not sure whether we can justify spending this amount of money on something like public art, particularly when we end up with white elephant projects which the public don’t want, which cost over a hundred thousand pounds.
CHRIS MANN: So in principle Andrea, if you could look at it again, would you look at it again?
ANDREA REINER: No I wouldn’t actually.
CHRIS MANN: So it’s fine as far as you’re concerned.
ANDREA REINER: Actually there are a number of people who have been campaigning. Actually I’m quite surprised. Last time I was in the studio, my colleague to the right was another Labour Party member, who’d been campaigning for this project for years. So this is very much a wanted project.
GEORGE OWERS: That’s not really true. Not in this form.
ANDREA REINER: Let me just finish, if you don’t mind.
CHRIS MANN: Just hang on a second George.
ANDREA REINER: Yes, so this is very much a wanted project. And there’s a group of people who’ve been campaigning for this for a long time. And I’m really looking forward to seeing this worked up, and come to fruition. So yes, I absolutely would defend this spending. It is a lot of money. I think what’s really important is that we do it right. We don’t come up with something that’s essentially not worthy of this very prime place in the city, or the game itself. Right? It’s supposed to commemorate the game of football. Let’s do something. Let’s do it right. Let’s put the money into it to come away with something that’s really worth the project,
GEORGE OWERS: Can I just add, can we give the public a say there?
ANDREA REINER: Absolutely. The new programme that we’ve come up with has absolutely a lot more public engagement, although I’m slightly baffled by the .. I walked into this project. There was one design. It was a seven foot tall Subbuteo figure. I said, I’m sorry, that’s not appropriate for the space. Let’s go back. Let’s come up with four proposals. We’re going to consult on a number of proposals that will go to the public. We’re actually going to get public input on a number of projects, not just one design.
CHRIS MANN: So how are the public going to get input?
ANDREA REINER: Through this consultation. Instead of just saying here’s the one design, we’re going to say listen, here’s a few different things, a few different designs. Tell us what you think. To me that’s a much more democratic process. And on top of that, it’s also going to committee, which George knows very well, because he’s on the committee, and I’ll be speaking there tomorrow evening about this.
GEORGE OWERS: Except that’s not true, because in the papers, if you actually read them, there’s one reference to public consultation, and it says the public will be asked their views at one exhibition, but the public vote will not be counted. It will not be binding. The decision is made by you, Andrea. It will be made by you and unelected officers, and some consultants that we’re bringing in for some reasons, which is another waste of public money.
CHRIS MANN: Are there consultants coming?
ANDREA REINER: There’s an art consultant.
CHRIS MANN: An art consultant.
ANDREA REINER: Frankly I think the problem with this project ..
CHRIS MANN: What’s he being paid, or she being paid?
ANDREA REINER: .. when I stepped in. The problem with this project ..
CHRIS MANN: Can I ask what they’re being paid?
ANDREA REINER: I don’t know.
CHRIS MANN: They’re being paid, are they?
ANDREA REINER: Yes. Absolutely. I’ll tell you. When we didn’t use an art consultant, we came up with Subbuteo. So I thought actually this project could use a little art expertise. And I think it’s well worth, well worth the fee.
CHRIS MANN: A good time to be a consultant.
GEORGE OWERS: We shouldn’t be paying specialist consultants who profess to know better than the public on art. Art is inherently subjective. We know this. But the people who, at the end of the day, we are accountable to are the public. So let’s ask their view, and make that the binding ..
CHRIS MANN: We¬†have to leave it there. Thank you both for joining me, and for your contributions. That’s Andrea Reiner Executive Councillor for Public Places for the LibDems. And George Owers from the Labour group. Both on Cambridge City Council.