Sandwell Council finally pulls the plug on 'The Public'

August 12, 2013 5:49 PM

We have written extensively over the years about 'The Public', an arts centre in West Bromwich. The omens were never good from the start. It was completed two years late  in 2008 and ran massively over-budget - costing some £72 million. Some regard the design as iconic, but as my colleague Jonathan Isaby said in an interview on BBC Midlands Today, it is an icon to bad budgeting and bad planning.

To say it has been a drain on the taxpayer is an understatement. It had to be rescued from administration by Sandwell Council, and the council created the Sandwell Arts Trust to make sure the building was finished and activities could be run there.  Currently taxpayers subsidise the facility to the tune of over £30,000 a week (£1.6 million a year), so it is hardly surprising the council has decided to pull the plug. 'The Public' will now close on 30 November.

In 2010, we commented that instead of being used for arts related projects, the council was desperately trying to increase visitor numbers by hosting events like knitting circles and old time music dances. It could be described as a very expensive church hall! Even though visitor numbers have risen in the past year, the income generated from events like these would never be anywhere near the amount needed for it to break even.

Some will say the council are philistines and do not value the Arts, but this is not a matter of whether or not you are a fan of the Arts - it is about the responsible use of taxpayers' money. There should have been a robust business plan from the start, but there wasn't. It was a grandiose scheme that was always doomed to failure. It was never a question of if 'The Public' should close, it was a matter of when.

The debate now raging is what to do with the building, branded as a pink elephant, when the council assumes responsibility for it on 30 November. It is possible Sandwell College could open a sixth form there, but that is far from certain. One thing is for certain though, whilst it lies empty, it will continue to be a drain on resources and the council must do everything it can to get some of our money back.

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