South Kesteven District Council leaders have agreed to set aside £100,000 to unveil in Grantham town centre a controversial statue of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The council’s cabinet voted in favour of underwriting the costs of the event for the £300,000 statue, but leader Kelham Cooke said he was “extremely confident” that “the cost of the event will be fully met through voluntary donations”.
“I do understand that there is a great debate about the legacy of Baroness Thatcher,” he said, pointing to recent stories in local and national media and social media criticism, including 14,000 people wanting to attend an egg-throwing event.
“However, what cannot be disputed is that this major event provides a fantastic opportunity for the Grantham community to celebrate its heritage and to promote the district of South Kesteven to both national and international audience in what is the most challenging periods of our lifetime.
“At the end of this, holding a major event at this scale and maximising the opportunities for our local economy is, I believe, the right thing to do for our community and our businesses.”
Cabinet members were keen to lavish praise on the Iron Lady.
Councillor Robert Reid said the negative rhetoric around the Grantham daughter “hurt me to listen”.
He praised her for putting the economy back in order, getting rid of the “old guard grandees” and putting “Britain back on the map”.
“The event will give us a national platform for the town of Grantham where I smile in respect at the Roberts grocery store, each time I pass,” he said.
He emphasised the council was underwriting the event, adding that “there won’t be any catering costs for the public purse – I can see to that”.
Councillor Dr Peter Mosley said the statue would “start conversations” about who Thatcher was and what she represented.
“It’s not very often a small town in Lincolnshire can lay claim to the first female prime minister and some of the great successes that she had.
“I appreciate there are people that see her as a divisive figure and look negatively on it, but I very much think that that we should be celebrating this.”
Other leaders called for local retailers to be involved as much as possible.
Councillor Rosemary Trollope-Bellew said: “If we could just take the politics out of this and look at look at this event as the first woman Prime Minister who came out of Lincolnshire out of the small market town of Grantham and think of how this will enhance particularly our visitor economy.”
Councillor Ray Wootten also looked to highlight the former PM’s successes, including reduced unemployment.
He said there was interest in why the town did not celebrate her more.
“Although a controversial figure to some, she is nevertheless viewed favourably in history alongside Sir Winston Churchill,” he said.
“She put the great back into Great Britain and restored pride in being British. The statue once erected will do the same for our great town of Grantham.”
Independent councillor Ian Selby said he was not arguing against the statue, but questioning the use of £100,000 of taxpayers money for the event.
He called on members to hold a referendum on whether people in the town wanted the statue.
“If local people turn around and say that they want the statue, nobody has the right to vandalise it, if it’s the wishes of local people to have it, those should be respected,” he said.
“However, if local people say no they don’t want it, that should also be respected. If you do not get the statue endorsed and [build it…] it’s asking for trouble.”
The cabinet voted unanimously to approve the recommendations.