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Cabinet forced to review decision to underwrite £100,000 for 'party' to unveil statue of Margaret Thatcher in Grantham

Cabinet members will be forced to review their decision to underwrite a £100,000 "party" to unveil a statue of Margaret Thatcher in Grantham.

South Kesteven District Council's culture and visitor economy overview and scrutiny committee today (Tuesday) voted to ask the cabinet to look again at its decision to underwrite the sum and report back to the committee on how it intends to both raise and spend the money.

The cabinet voted last month to underwrite up to £100,000 for a ceremony to unveil the controversial bronze statue on St Peter's Hill green, saying it aims to raise the money through the private sector.

The bronze statue by Douglas Jennings (7040694)
The bronze statue by Douglas Jennings (7040694)

It attracted strong criticism from councillors and residents who believe the sum is too much and that suggesting it during the Covid-19 pandemic is inappropriate and out of touch. It also led to threats of an egg throwing contest with the statue the target.

Independent councillor Ashley Baxter, supported by at least five fellow councillors, went on to 'call in' the decision, leading it to the scrutiny committee meeting today for review.

A lack of public consultation on the installation of the statue itself was a common theme throughout discussions, as was concern over ongoing maintenance costs and calls for it to be debated at full council.

The plinth on which the Margaret Thatcher statue will stand, with the Guildhall and Grantham Museum in the background. (43390526)
The plinth on which the Margaret Thatcher statue will stand, with the Guildhall and Grantham Museum in the background. (43390526)

Grantham councillor Louise Clack (Lab) said: "I have an issue with a handful of people making a decision about such a large sum of money for what is effectively a party.

"Ostensibly, this was done on the basis that it was underwriting the £100,000 but we've not had any proof or evidence that we have support from the community for this."

She added: "We should be having different points of view being represented and I think the way this was bulldozed through with spending £100,000 on somebody who was a polarising figure...it would be churlish for either side to denude the polarising debate that surrounds her."

Stamford councillor Helen Wheeler (lib Dem) said "it will help to put Grantham on the map" but added that the public purse must be protected.

She added: "I do not believe that we should be committing £100,000 of taxpayers' money for an unveiling event which will be entirely party political in nature. Times are tough, budgets are down and people are struggling.

"It is beyond comprehension and quite frankly embarrassing that are district would sign off on a budget like this, particularly without proper scrutiny and questioning."

Coun Phil Dilks (Ind), representing Deeping St James, said: "How have we become so out of touch with reality that we're seriously thinking of staging a party costing £100,000 to unveil a statue when our priority ought to be assisting those who need help facing spiralling Covid costs, rocketing unemployment and homelessness and the extra demand on local foodbanks."

Coun Dilks asked "what has the unveiling of a statue in Grantham 30 miles away from Deepings got to do with my ward", questioning why residents in the Deeping and elsewhere in the district should "be forced" to pay towards the statue.

This was echoed by Coun Ashley Baxter (Ind), who represents Market Deeping and West Deeping. He said: "Why haven't the people of Grantham been consulted?

"And what about the other resident of South Kesteven? All the people who've spoken to me from the Deepings about the money being spent in Grantham how are they represented? Why is the statue not being funded from the Grantham special expense area, which is for issues which are based in Grantham? There's very little benefit to a statue in Grantham to the people who live in Deeping St James, I would argue."

Meanwhile, Grantham Independent councillor Ian Selby repeated a call he made previously to hold a referendum in Grantham on installing the statue, claiming that it could run alongside the Lincolnshire County Council elections in May.

He added: "This is about adequate consultation. There's been no consultation for the residents.

"It is such a divisive issue and the timing of it couldn't be worse. We have seen other statues pulled down? Why? Because they're a reminder or pain and suffering. Jacky Smith touched upon Margaret Thatcher being views with pride.

"How many people really are going to be able to view this statue with pride? I personallyfor one am sorry to say that I won't be able to. It's hurtful. I'm going to have to walk past this statue and it's going to bring back horrible memories for people who have suffered under her policies."

Speaking in support of the cabinet's decision were Grantham councillor Ray Wootten and Coun Jacky Smith, who are both ward councillors for the St Peter's Hill area.

Coun Wootten said: "I believe that the unveiling of the statue to Mrs Thatcher will place Grantham on the world stage and recognise her as Britain's first female Prime Minister, along with her achievements and place in history."

Coun Smith added: "This will do an awful lot of good, not just for Grantham, but for the area. It will attract people into Grantham and the surroundings. We have a tremendous history which is often not really taken into account.

"Mrs Thatcher did a lot of good, not only for Grantham, not only for South Kesteven and Lincolnshire but for the world as a whole and I think we should be proud of that and show it.

"The £100,000 that you keep on about is a small amount to pay for what will eventually be a very big income generator."

Leader of the council Coun Kelham Cooke was asked to address the committee and spoke of the "significant impact that both the statue and the unveiling event will have on our local economy".

He added: "With residents and businesses facing significant financial hardship, I do believe we should also be focussing on doing everything we can to help our local economy recover post-Covid.

"And I think this event delivers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost tourism and footfall and to raise the profile of our wonderful district to national and international audiences.

"In addition, it is important to once again reiterate that our plans clearly prioritise a robust fund-raising campaign to cover the costs of the event. Yes the cabinet has agreed to underwrite the cost of the event but our focus is for the cost to met by donations, not the public purse."

He added: "Already I have had several expression of interest to donate towards the cost of the event which is a huge vote of confidence for us."

Coun Cooke confirmed the unveiling event – which will be attended by a person of "significant national importance" – will not take place until "after the pandemic".

He added that it would be a civic event, not party political, and that the statue would bring visitors to Grantham Museum.

Concerns were also raised by councillors about openness of the council and claims made that the description of the agenda item at the cabinet meeting where the decision was made was "deliberately obtuse".

This was rejected by Coun Kelham Cooke who said documents were available to view seven days before the meeting.

The statue of Mrs Thatcher will be placed on a 3.2 metre high plinth, making it over 6.4 metres tall in total.

She was born and raised in Grantham and attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, before gaining a scholarship to study at Oxford University.

Her father Alfred, a grocer, was mayor from 1945 to 1946. She entered the House of Lords in 1992. She was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.

Plans to build the statue on Parliament Square, in London, were previously rejected by Westminster Council due to the fear of it being targeted by protesters.

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