Friday, 27 February 2009

"Things have changed and continue to change – for the better – at Nottingham City Council"

'We’re witnessing one of Nottingham’s finest architectural landmarks rising from one of the City’s most historic sites'. Alex Farquharson, Director, Nottingham Contemporary.
Nottingham Industrial Museum at Wollaton Hall is being closed by Nottingham City Council to help finance Nottingham Contemporary, which already likes to boast about it historical roots in the heart of old Nottingham.

In response to a leaked, albeit dated, report, which describes the City Council, among other things, as 'dysfunctional', the Nottingham Evening Post quotes Jane Todd, the Council's Chief Executive, as saying: "Things have changed and continue to change – for the better – at Nottingham City Council". Er, run that past me again. By 'better' does Ms Todd mean the decision to close the Nottingham Industrial Museum — which it owns — in Wollaton Park, so that it can pump money into Nottingham Contemporary — which it does not own. Or the decision to move local street traders from the pitches they have occupied for decades, because they interfere with the up-market shopping image Nottingham aggressively promotes at every opportunity. Perhaps she means the new 2009/10 Council budget, which a half-decent opposition could tear to shreads for its inconsistencies and conclusions.

As a lifelong Labour Party member I regard myself as 'tribal', but that doesn't mean I have to be a cypher. After twelve years in power the Labour Government and its leaders are the architects of the calamity that has befallen millions of ordinary people. The global crisis is one of their making as much as America's. They dismissed their critics as promotors of 'the politics of envy', they raided pension funds by imposing additional taxes, they promoted lax regulation not just of the banks, but of workplaces too. Perhaps they believed they could only fund new schools and hospitals etc by ensuring corporate capitalism got to make huge profits, but many of us thought them wrong and said so, but we were brushed aside. Even the 'minimum wage' has come at a price, for it has trapped many in poverty, simply because Gordon Brown and others refused to set it at a level which lifted recipients above a level at which they still needed to claim welfare payments dressed up as 'tax credits'. They have continued to privatise public services, even at this moment they are trying to do down Royal Mail and our postal services. And so it is with much of what Nottingham City Council does.

Am I really expected to sit by and say nothing? Of course not. I have to be a 'critical friend', pointing out Nottingham City Council's shortcomings, but always mindful of the need to propose a constructive alternative. I believe I can do this. At this particular moment I want to tell them that I disagree so profoundly with their decision to close the Nottingham Industrial Museum, which is the third museum Labour Party city councillors will have closed (the Canal Museum went in c1998 and the Costume Museum followed in c2003), that I have come to the conclusion that they are not fit to run the city's museums and they have to be taken away from them. The only answer seems to be a public trust, which the City Council will have to give an agreed amount to every year, but not less than the 2008/09 funding level.

The Industrial Museum matters because it tells the story of how modern Nottingham was made and, in many ways, its location in Wollaton Park, beside Wollaton Hall, seems apposite, when you understand that the wealth of the Tudor family who built the Hall came from coal. I cannot believe that any city councillor who has ever visited the Museum (and I wonder how many have), especially on 'steam day', would vote for its closure, but, of course, they will.

Did any city councillor (or officer for that matter) question the wisdom of getting drawn into new ventures, such as Nottingham Contemporary, when they could not properly care for the museums they already owned? I ask this question not because I am opposed to contemporary arts. I am probably the only person in Nottingham who is a one-time chair of both a regional museums service and what was once Nottingham's premier contemporary arts centre, and help to found a Nottingham community arts centre into the bargain, so I cannot be accused of being an enemy of Nottingham Contemporary.

I see their position as akin to the banker who is being hounded by hypocritical politicians to give up some of the £650,000 pension this Labour Government originally agreed, a few short months ago, he could have. And so it is with Nottingham Contemporary. They should not be vilified by those who will protest against the closure of Nottingham Industrial Museum — the blame for the present mess rests squarely on the shoulders of our Labour Party led City Council.

If what is happening here is, in Ms Todd's mind, "Change for the better", then I am living in a different Nottingham to her. I really hope that when the City Council's 2009/10 budget gets debated by a full City Council meeting, it is scrutinised closely and its shortcomings laid bare for all to see. If I can manage it, I will go and sit in the public gallery and hear it all for myself.

Extra expenditure identified in the Nottingham City Council Budget 2009/10: 'Old Market Square. Ongoing preventative maintenance costs'. £77,000 per annum at 2009/10 prices for the next three years.



1 comment:

Rosie said...

You are right to say that it isn't the fault of 'TheContemporary'just for being there and needing money rather the fault of the people who have allowed this situation of 'either/or' to happen. I must admit that I had to google the Contemporary as I hadn't heard of it but I do know and love the Industrial Museum, infact all the Nottingham Museums. I still mourn the loss of that wonderful Costume museum - as I do the one in Leicester. It is great to have a contemporary gallery for new works and installations but equally the past must not be forgotten and wiped away as it's as important to the city of today as is its future and to look forward to that future it must embrace its past. Sorry, I'm rambling but I hope you get the gist - love the future Christmas card photo in your last post:)