South Kesteven District Council leaders have been told to review their decision to underwrite a £100,000 event to unveil a £300,000 statue of Margaret Thatcher in Grantham town centre.
The culture and visitor economy overview and scrutiny committee voted in favour of a proposal to ask the cabinet to provide further information on the event’s costs before they would approve the spend.
The statue already has planning permission, given in February 2019, but the decision to put aside the money for the ceremonial event was made last month. Council leaders say it will be paid for by donations from the private sector.
However, those who called-in the decision accused the cabinet of “bulldozing through” the decision for what they said was “essentially a party”.
They said the leadership was “out of touch” with residents over the issue and said there had been a lack of information, consultation, transparency and detail.
Some even called for a public referendum on the decision — though this was not put to the vote.
Labour councillor Louise Clack said there was “a real issue with a handful of people making a decision about such a large sum of money for what is effectively a party.”
“Ostensibly, this was done on the basis that it was underwriting £100,000, but we’ve not had any proof or evidence that we have support from the community for this,” she said.
Independent Councillor Phil Dilks pointed to the fact Westminster Council had already rejected the statue due to the lack of support and threats of vandalism.
He said he did not object to the statue previously as long as it was protected behind a high security fence and if the public purse was not used to finance it.
“So how have we become so out of touch with reality that we’re seriously thinking of staging a party […] when our priority ought to be assisting those who need financial help facing spiralling COVID costs, rocketing unemployment, homelessness and extreme demand on local food banks?”
Council leader Kelham Cooke defended the decision saying it would have a “significant impact” on the local economy.
“This event is a once in a lifetime opportunity to boost tourism and footfall and to raise the profile of Grantham across national and international waters,” he said.
“Already I have had several expression of interest to donate towards the cost of the event which is a huge vote of confidence for us.”
He was backed by Councillor Ray Wootten who compared the statue to that of former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson in Huddersfield, to which he said he bore “no ill feelings towards”.
He said there was a silent majority who supported the statue.
“I’m certain that the unveiling of this statue statue in Grantham will attract international press and visitors from around the world and will be an asset to our town” he said.
Margaret Thatcher (nee Roberts) was born and raised in Grantham and attended Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, before gaining a scholarship to study at Oxford University.
Her father Alfred, a grocer, was mayor from 1945 to 1946. She entered the House of Lords in 1992. She was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990.
Plans to build the statue on Parliament Square, in London, were previously rejected by Westminster Council due to the fear of it being targeted by protestors.