West Bromwich doesn’t have much to boast of these days; it has no cinema, no theatre, no swimming pool and the shopping centre is tumbledown. Sandwell, the local authority, only received one star in the latest CPA Council Ratings (2006) and the area is right at the bottom of the national league tables for education, propping the rest of the country up.
It seems a travesty therefore that Sandwell taxpayers will be forced to throw millions more into the funding blackhole that is THE pUBLIC arts centre, a venture to provide a gallery and ‘learning centre’ for West Bromwich that has been draining the public purse for many years now. Officially, the initial budget for this project was set at £40million, but others claim that back when the concept was being devised nearly fifteen years ago it was never intended to cost more than £11million. Nevertheless, the taxpayer is now looking at a bill of £70million (Express & Star, 27th June) by the time THE pUBLIC opens, at least two years late. Despite this, it’s unlikely that Sandwell Council and THE pUBLIC’s other financial backers – the usual suspects; Arts Council England, Advantage West Midlands, etc – are in too much of a hurry for the building works to be finished as they still don’t even know what to put in it.
There has been every possible opportunity to call a halt to this scheme, saving taxpayers’ millions; the Gulbenkian Foundation withdrew their funding after just two years, the original project manager was sacked, the designer went bankrupt, and in 2006 the entire project went into administration but still those funding the venture seem reluctant to pull the plug, and Sandwell Council are currently borrowing more millions in order to finance THE pUBLIC’s completion.
The trust of council taxpayers has been completely undermined by Sandwell Council’s blinkered commitment to this poorly managed, ill-fated and utterly wasteful initiative and they cannot justifiably divert another penny towards it. The council’s main remit is to spend their budget in ways that benefit the community, and currently the large empty black box of a building looming menacingly over the West Bromwich skyline is beneficial to no-one but the numerous consultants, strategists and creative types involved, many of whom have remained full pay even whilst the project was out of action.
THE pUBLIC has now been dubbed the ‘Millennium Dome of the West Midlands’ by many, and local residents are in the unfortunate position of paying a hefty price for the incompetence of their politicians.