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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 15:43 GMT 16:43 UK
140,000 spent on 'pockets' study
A government quango has been accused of "totally wasting" public funds after it spent 140,000 on a study into the history of pockets.

The three-year study at the University of Southampton was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

The cash has paid for two researchers and a touring exhibition - currently based in Bath.

On Friday, the AHRC was forced to defend the project after Cotswold MP Geoffrey Clifton-Brown condemned it.

The impact pockets had in the 17th Century makes no impact on anyone's lives
Katherine Murphy

The study, carried out at the Winchester School of Art and Textiles, was aimed at exploring the history of the tie-on pocket - worn by women under their petticoats or aprons from the late 17th Century.

The aim was to "bring them back into the public consciousness and to understand more clearly what they meant to the women who wore them", according to the AHRC.

The Conservative MP said it was "unbelievable" that money was being spent on such a study when patients across the country were facing hospital closures and budget cuts.

Frivolous research

He said: "If I was waiting for an operation and in great pain, I would be pretty annoyed about this. It's unbelievable.

"This is the sort of thing that should be done privately."

Katherine Murphy, from the Patients' Association, said the news that money was being "wasted" on frivolous research would anger taxpayers and patients.

"The money could be used to pay for three full-time nurses for a year, which would make quite a difference.

"The impact pockets had in the 17th Century makes no impact on anyone's lives. It's a load of nonsense."

'Not trivial'

Professor Tony McEnery, director of research at the AHRC, said the study would help to "underpin" the British fashion and heritage industries.

He said: "It's a grant which has been made to look at the history and development of an article of clothing. On one level it may seem trivial but in fact it's extremely important.

"Our investment in areas such as fashion helps underpin a key part of the economy, which generates money to support the NHS.

"Just because it appears trivial at first glance, we shouldn't under-estimate the deep importance that investment such as this makes."

The AHRC spends more than 90m of public money on funding research each year.


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