Not exactly belt-tightening…

When driving on the A12 a few months back I came across a real treat.

It was the new Hollywood Hills-style sign welcoming me to Basildon.

Yep, B-A-S-I-L-D-O-N – in huge white letters.

Amusing as it was though, it struck me as a sad waste of resource in an area that could have done much more with some funding towards regenation.

But the latest spending splurge knocks that one for six.

Apparently an Essex Hospital has splashed out £421k on ‘modern art’ – while trying to cut £40m from its budget. It makes for difficult reading and no doubt even trickier PR handling.

A piece in last week’s Daily Mail noted that $421,000 has been spent on artwork for the new wing of Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford (also in Essex). This is at a time when Mid Essex Hospitals Trust is apparently attempting to cut £40million from its budget in light of government belt-tightening.

A local GP and health campaigner from South Woodham Ferrers hit the nail on the head: ‘The people making these decisions and spending money on gormless projects live in a dream world.’ 

The trust has apparently commissioned eight artists to create works for the new £148million building, including the two steel and fiberglass human statues, white figures adorned with silver, for the lobby, plus another 150 pieces of art, such as paintings, stained glass, textiles prints and mosaics.

As to what the locals think of the splurge, well actually it’s had mixed reviews: from ‘It’s ridiculous and that money should be better spent, like improving the cleanliness of the hospital,’ to ‘The things outside look like lolly sticks. Some of the paintings are nice though.’ 

According to a trust employee, the staff were originally told the bill could be as much as £3million – at a time when they are facing job cuts. ‘We couldn’t believe what we were hearing because in the next breath we were being told that we had to cut back on spending. To splash out that much money on artwork is just ridiculous. The money would be better spent on improving services.’ 

One of the artists, Steve Downey, from Braintree, noted on his website that he was managing a budget of ‘over £3million’ in relation to the project. But later said the bill had been cut to a ‘cheap’ £421,000.

£421,000 on art when the hospital is trying to slash £40m from its budget to meet Government cutbacks?!

The new wing is funded by Bouygues UK under a private finance initiative and the trust will pay back the cost over a number of years with interest. A spokeswoman for the Mid Essex Hospitals Trust said: ‘The art is part of Bouygues UK contractual commitment to the ‘Art in Health’ initiative, so this money could not have been spent on mainstream NHS services.’ And in a joint statement with Bouygues UK they said:

‘The project aims to contribute to the overall aim of providing excellence and effective models of care by enhancing the environment for everyone who uses the hospital and helping to reduce stress, speed up recovery and aid the healing process.’

Emma Boon, of the Taxpayer’s Alliance, said: ‘This art purchase looks like madness to locals and hospital staff who are being told that there must be spending cuts, it just doesn’t make sense. I think patients and taxpayers would much rather have healthcare from their local hospital instead of expensive art. ‘Broomfield Hospital needs to take the serious state of public finances seriously and start getting value for money for taxpayers.’ 

I’m pretty sure the locals would agree. And I’m pretty sure the trust is going to need some media and presentation training in order to deal with all of the attention it’s likely to generate! 

Perhaps we ought to get in touch…

Gemma Carey, Bluewood Training Ltd

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