We are about to be hearing a lot more about The Public, the vastly over budget arts centre in West Bromwich that has been nicknamed the ‘pink elephant’ by detractors.
From today it has a new captain at the helm who is attempting to steer it towards a successful opening next summer and gain the support of the local population – a mammoth task considering the community in West Bromwich do not have a bowling alley, theatre, cinema or even a swimming pool. Speaking to the local population it is clear that they consider a ‘technical’ and ‘interactive’ arts centre to be the sort of thing you might find in London or nearby Birmingham, not in West Bromwich, a place lacking some of the most basic of amenities.
Add into the mix the massive overspend (estimates run as high as £30million) and it seems David Clarke has taken on an unenviable responsibility. But then his credentials are impeccable, a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts who has an impressive track record with large scale arts projects, and a businessman who has run his own DCA Consultancy in Birmingham for the past 12 years.
Alarm bells ringing? We are yet to discover his publicly funded fee...
Councillor Bob Badham who has supported this venture through thick and thin yesterday reiterated his now very familiar sentiments to the Express & Star, “Let’s look forward to the future now”. Which is all very well for him to say, but looking forward to the future seems to involve dismissing the past to Councillor Badham.
West Bromwich is not the most affluent area in the UK, people there struggle to pay for utilities and council tax. Few recognisable high street retailers can be spotted along the high street, and instead market stalls and bargain stores provide for the population. In the shopping centre many units are empty and with less business and retail, unemployment is predictably high – the local pubs are a hive of activity from opening time until close, even on weekdays. The public toilets are a no-go area and the local schools are amongst the very worst in the country. The shop and stall owners reminisce about when West Bromwich was a ‘decent’ place and the local people had some ‘civic pride’. Perhaps parochial but certainly poignant, many pointed out that they “used to have a Marks’”.
So should these people be expected to simply ‘forget’ that millions of pounds of their money has been wasted and mismanaged? Money that could have impressively revamped the town centre, and resurrected that civic pride and atrtracted investment? Or provided new or better schools for their children? Or have cut council tax, easing the burden and allowing them more of their own money to spend?
Of course they shouldn’t forget, and nor should those in charge of the project lest they make the mistakes of the past.
Even if David Clarke transforms this building into a roaring success, it would still take an age break even (estimates say that the vacant building has costed over £4,000 per-week). If he doesn’t, then the bill will yet again land with the taxpayers who have paid massive amounts towards this building already.
As the building moves into its next phase is it really fair that a public who haven’t been consulted should have to foot the bill as it inevitably escalates?