By Zoe Hughes Political Editor
Friday, November 11, 2005
One hundred and thirty three thousand pounds of taxpayers money has been spent by a North-East quango on sculptures for its own HQ.
An answer to a Parliamentary question on how much regional development agencies are spending on art, revealed that One NorthEast has paid out £133,126 in the past five years for three sculptures at its Newburn Riverside offices.
The figures show that four other regions spent considerably more on art, but that four more agencies spent nothing at all. Critics immediately questioned ONE's use of money, arguing the cash should have been earmarked for promoting regional economic development.
One politician attacked the decision as "feathering their own nest" while Sunderland campaigner Neil Herron warned the sculptures, two by North-East artist Joe Hillier, were not accessible to most members of the public.
But ONE defended the sculptures as chowcasing local talent and increasing the value of business properties.
The figures show the Government agency spent £103,126 commissioning two pieces of work by Mr Hillier; Being Human and Generation, a set of three disembodied heads symbolising different eras of human and industrial production.
Another piece of work by Tanya Axford, A High of 360 Degrees, which cost £30,000, sits in the entrance lobby of One NorthEast.
The figure pales into insignificance, though, against the artwork purchased by the North-West development agency - a total of £3.64m over five years.
Mr Herron said it was an "arrogant affront" to the public to have the sculptures in their own office block instead of being accessible to all. "Art is not a waste of money but it should be available to everyone. Art for One NorthEast's sake is just sheer arrogance."
And Bernard Jenkin, former Tory regions spokesman, attacked the agency for "succumbing to the temptation of feathering their own nest. Bureaucracy is always fallible of this and this proves just that."
Last night One NorthEast director of regeneration and tourism John Holmes said the agency was committed to the cultural and physical regeneration of the region adding the sculptures in particular, commissioned by local artists, demonstrated "the agency's desire to highlight the best contemporary art in the region.
"Stella House (One NorthEast's office complex) acts as a gateway to the region with numerous visitors from around the world, making us a showcase for local artists."
And he was backed by Hexham MP Peter Atkinson who said the money was miniscule compared to the agency's £270m budget. "We shouldn't be mean-minded about, this it adds to the atmosphere of the North-East," he said.