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Newcastle Council arts project £2.7 million over budget

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Mark Wallace of The Taxpayers Alliance says the lack of proper budgeting for an arts project in Newcastle has cauased the EU to pull out - leaving local Council Taxpayers to pick up the bill.

I first brought up Newcastle City Council’s misguided arts ventures in this column back in April. Five months and at least one more scandal later, now seems a good time to return to the topic.

It seems that following on from the hideous proposed makeover for the historic Grey’s Monument, another part of Newcastle’s arts empire has come to some grief, at vast expense for taxpayers. The Waygood Gallery project, which is a major redevelopment of a Grade II listed building and a six storey warehouse in the City’s beautiful Grainger Town heart, is apparently running millions of pounds over budget.

The council have this week revealed that the project is running a gobsmacking £2.7 million over budget so far, an overspend which is going to be made up by Newcastle City Council (£1.9 million) and the Arts Council (£800,000).

The project’s mismanagement has been clear for some time. Council officers, not necessarily known for their merciless efficiency, described Waygood’s management as “inconsistent”, and even the EU was so unhappy with the project that they withdrew £500,000 of grant funding. When the EU thinks your book-keeping and financial planning isn’t up to scratch, you’ve got a serious problem.

At least part of the problem seems to be the less than inspiring founder and boss of the gallery, Helen Smith. Prior to this latest fiasco, Ms Smith got in trouble back in June when the Waygood Gallery paid her boyfriend £2,625 for work commissioned from him. The Council has now announced plans to look into “governance issues”, which is a diplomatic way of saying that Ms Smith may well be part of the problem rather than the solution.

The really frustrating thing is that this is not the first time an art gallery proposal generated by an art enthusiast who lacks the skills or experience to manage a major project has been given a massive budget, which they have then vastly exceeded. Many of you will be familiar with the appalling case of The Public in West Bromwich, where a keen but inexperienced art enthusiast oversaw a disastrous £20 million overspend. In a world where taxpayers’ money was properly looked after, such a disaster would never have happened in the first place. That it has apparently happened a second time is unforgivable.


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