Page last updated at 18:11 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Arts centre 'needs investigating'

The Public, West Bromwich
The Arts Council had been providing 520,000 a year towards The Public

The National Audit Office should step in to examine a 60m controversial arts complex, the shadow arts minister said.

The Arts Council said this week it would pull some funding for The Public, which partially opened last year - two years late and nearly 15m over budget.

The main feature of the West Bromwich complex, an interactive gallery, has still not opened.

The call came as The University of Wolverhampton said it was in talks to use more of the space in The Public.

The university already uses a section of the building and said it now wanted to use more to to help people start up new businesses.

It confirmed it was talking to Sandwell Council over the plans.

Shadow minister Ed Vaizey said: "The most important lesson an audit office inquiry could bring is at what point the taps should have been turned off."

'Over-ambitious'

Mr Vaizey described it as the "biggest arts scandal for decades" and thought West Bromwich residents had been "very badly let down".

The Arts Council said on Wednesday it was unable to give the extra 500,000 a year Sandwell Council said was needed to keep The Public running.

Where a scandal like this happens, something like The Public, it gives all arts organisations a bad name
Ed Vaizey, Shadow Arts Minister

However, it said it would be giving the council a one-off 3m grant to try to open the whole arts complex to the public.

The Arts Council has previously provided 520,000 a year.

Mr Vaizey described the scheme as "over-complicated, over-ambitious and badly executed".

He said: "Sixty million pounds of public money has gone in to it, lottery money, and we know lottery money is scarce at the moment.

"And now the Arts Council is proposing to put an extra 3m into a building that isn't even (fully) opened to the public.

"Where a scandal like this happens, something like The Public, it gives all arts organisations a bad name.

"It reinforces the impression that some people have that arts organisations are feather-bedded and fluffy organisations who can't run a tea party."

Sandwell Council's cabinet has already agreed to find an extra 1m of funding over the next year to help the project.

The Public went into administration in 2006, when it was being run by a private company, before effectively being saved by a 1.6m grant.

It opened in June and attracted criticism over plans to charge people 6.95 to enter the interactive gallery.



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SEE ALSO
Arts centre 'complete waste of money'
29 Jan 09 |  West Midlands
Funding for arts complex pulled
28 Jan 09 |  West Midlands
Arts complex's future discussed
27 Jan 09 |  West Midlands
Arts project has 'cost extra 3m'
10 Jul 08 |  West Midlands
'Further 1m' needed for gallery
07 Jul 08 |  West Midlands
Controversial art gallery opens
28 Jun 08 |  West Midlands
Tax-funded gallery charges public
03 Jun 08 |  West Midlands

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