District council spending on Honiton gallery criticised

PUBLISHED: 17:00 25 January 2018

The garden has been improved and was officially opened by Cllr Stuart Hughes in 2016. Picture: Alex Walton

The garden has been improved and was officially opened by Cllr Stuart Hughes in 2016. Picture: Alex Walton

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Councillor Cathy Gardner questioned where the authority's priorities lie at the council's joint overview and scrutiny committee meeting last week.

District council expenditure of more than £100,000 to Honiton’s Thelma Hulbert Gallery (THG) came under fire last week.

Councillor Cathy Gardner questioned where the authority’s priorities lie at the council’s joint overview and scrutiny committee meeting last Wednesday.

The attack came after it was revealed the council is considering a move to restrict access to public toilets in Sidmouth – a step which Cllr Gardner says would be a ‘massive step backwards for civilisation’

She told the joint overview and scrutiny committee meeting: “This is the most appalling item I have seen on a budget since I have been on the council.

“Our MP said that we have to make choices. This is a choice the council should consider extremely carefully.

“We are spending money on arts provision and supporting projects a lot of people aren’t happy with. We’re increasing budgets on other things while we are looking at something so basic as public toilets.

“This is such a bad step for civilisation. We have to think about what this council spends its money on.”

East Devon District Council (EDDC) papers say the asset management forum will consider a range of opportunities to cut costs for the facilities – including paid access or leasing some to businesses.

The agenda papers say town and parish councils will be consulted on potential alternative uses for the public toilets.

The review is yet to be considered by EDDC’s full council.

John Golding, strategic lead for housing, health and environment, said: “Officers and members have looked carefully at our expenditure on arts and culture over the past few years and have repeatedly justified spending on discretionary services such as the THG.

“The gallery is an important part of the council’s culture offer and fits well with our health and wellbeing ambitions.

“We are fortunate to have an attractive building, hosting the Thelma Hulbert collection and archive, which is valued by the local community and beyond.

“The gallery has been very effective at attracting grants and awards towards their work which keeps the cost down.

“As part of their remit, the staff have improved the garden, run a popular and successful gallery shop, increased visitor numbers and developed the reputation of the gallery, which has a varied and interesting programme of thought provoking exhibitions that make good use of our gallery space.

“The gallery staff have also increased their outreach work and have been working extensively with communities across the East Devon district. “THG provides an exciting programme of learning for schools, individuals, and groups, including workshops for people with dementia and their carers.

“The gallery is currently organising an auction to raise money for Admiral Nurses who give expert practical, clinical and emotional support to families living with dementia.

“The gallery also holds workshops for those who have mental health issues and links in with the activities of the council’s community and countryside teams.

“We recognise that difficult spending decisions need to be made and whilst the council can afford to subsidise the gallery and receive good value from it, we will continue to do so.”

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