Thursday, 24 November 2011


Nick Robinson did a rekkie to Margate as part of Your Money and How They Spend It, a documentary investigating how taxpayer's money is spent, which aired on BBC2 last night. As Daily Mirror columnist Jane Simon has noted, the bespectacled Political Editor "smugly zeroes in on some spending decisions that seem particularly unsound" with one such 'example' being the Turner Contemporary which Jane describes as "a multi-million pound art gallery in struggling Margate."

Standing in front of the Daniel Buren window installation, Gallery Director Victoria Pomery was interviewed by Nick Robinson and did a fairly good job dealing with some tricky questions thrown at her. After referring to the £14m of public money that went into building the Turner Contemporary, Nick went into 'attack dog' mode. Here is a transcript of how the conversation went:

NICK: You must at times see the real poverty that there is here [in Margate]. How, in a sense, do you argue to yourself the reason why people in very low-paid jobs should pay their taxes to build what is in a sense a real luxury?
VICTORIA: I don't see any of the arts as a luxury. I see the arts as integral to our lives, all of our lives, whoever we are. And I think for me it's really important that everyone can access fantastic arts that make them think in different ways about themselves and the world that they live in.

NICK: Isn't this just in the end a bit of fluff?
VICTORIA: I don't think this is fluff at all. I think this is serious. We are really ambitious. We want to be part of Margate's history and part of its future. And we feel we can really help and support the wider regeneration and renewal of this area.

Exploring the opposite side of the argument, Nick Robinson interviewed Dawn McClaren, a local mum who said she was angry about the use of taxpayer's money to build an art gallery given the fact that her college-educated son can't get a job due to the chronic lack of jobs in the area. Also making a very brief appearance was Labour councillor Ian Driver who expressed optimism about the gallery and predicted we'd soon feel the benefit in a few years time when the local jobs market eventually picks up.

Concluding his investigation, Nick Robinson pointed out that arts funding for the whole of England adds up to about £447m which he describes as "a drop in the ocean of public spending, and a lot less than Winter Fuel Allowance." From that, I think we should take comfort in that as far as investment in the arts goes, there are far more cost-heavy areas of public expenditure that deserve far more scrutiny.

Besides, only a fool would have failed to notice the immediate impact the opening of Turner has had on the local area in such a short space of time. Personally, I'm of the view that the arts are vitally important to society, particularly in how those in the arts industry can engage with the education sector, so I couldn't be more pleased with the progress that Turner Contemporary is making and the effect it is having on the local area.

The rebirth of Margate is already starting to occur in the Old Town (for which the Margate Renewal Partnership recently received an award for Great Neighbourhood from the Academy of Urbanism at a national ceremony) and The British Guild of Travel Writers even gave an international tourism award to the Turner Contemporary earlier this month.

The proof  as they say  is in the pudding. Jobs may be sparse, sure, but Rome wasn't built in a day. Let's just count our blessings and be thankful that the Turner Contemporary isn't quite turning out to be the 'white elephant' that some people thought it would be.

You can still watch Episode 1 of Your Money and How They Spend It on BBC iPlayer and make up your own mind.


  1. So he doesn't see the arts as important yet makes the point himself that less than half a billion is spent on it. Whats the problem then? The regeneration of a struggling town at £14m is a bargain.

    Sounds like he's trying too hard to be controversial. Perhaps he's jealous of Peston's notoriety...

  2. Include me among the fools not convinced of the benefits. A tiny oasis of grant-aided niche trading has enjoyed a honeymoon period while the town as a whole degenerates. The BBC's arts correspondent explained on Radio 4 last week how arts centres typically shine in the first year, settle in the second and problems surface in the third. Who will meet the £2 million running costs of this free attraction? As for James' suggestion that the Turner project has cost £14 million... if I were as rude as Luke, I might say "only a fool would believe that".

  3. It must be so terribly difficult to take the moral high ground while hiding behind anonymity. I applaud you for your courage.

    Need I remind you that Turner Contemporary's 'difficult' third year will be in 2013 - the very same year that Dreamland is forecast to reopen following their £3 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. With that in mind, I'm willing to bet that the huge amount of heritage theme park visitors and day trippers in that year will also visit the gallery and end up prolonging Turner's supposed 'honeymoon period' for years to come. Just a hunch.

  4. The Turner Centre has cost £17m, for what? 10-20 pieces of art on display in a massive centre that could have been more sensibly turned into something used by the entire community.

    Only people who like art appreciate the change,it is an expensive monstrosity designed to appeal to a small group of people who are so up their own opinions that they cannot see the total waste of space and money that the Turner Centre really is.

    Oh and the turnaround will be short lived, because at the end of the day how many people are actually buying art from all these weird gallery businesses that have latched on to this 'phenomenon'?

    A seascape that Turner was once enamoured with has been destroyed by a stupid bunch of sheds and sea of useless windmills.

  5. A.N Other anonymous contributor25 November 2011 at 08:44

    I agree with the sentiment displayed by 22.19 that who has actually seen the benefit of Turner. The gallery itself, shop keepers in the old town, the few decent places to stay that remain, TDC through parking charges, south eastern.

    According to victoria though, all those 3rd generation unemployed, demotivated, socially housed,deprived masses from Cliftonville, central margate and central ramsgate can come along to Turner and suddenly through dubious art see that what they thought was a really shit existence is in fact a wonderful life and they are now going to find a cure for incurable diseases. Or a job as a baggage handler at manston.

    As soon as they start giving us statistics on these wonder stories instead of pointless visitor numbers (who might all buy petrol at home, park on a charge free street and bring a flask of tea and a sarnie), I'll start believing its good for everyone in thanet and not just a few.

  6. Compared to frittering away public money on illegal wars, public-private partnerships and the ever expanding police state grid, I should say the Turner has been money well spent.

    Why are we even wasting time debating this BBC tossers's opinion anyway.

  7. I have read the Turner Centre reviews and come to the conclusion its not worth me spending £60 on rail fares to visit the centre.
    If you live near by then as it free it may be worth a look.
    But spending £25 millions of local and national tax payers money over 5 years does not seem a good investment if the end result is only 30 new small to medium size shops. A new Tescos in the town would employ a lot more.

  8. I agree 100% with the anonymous poster. The building is EMPTY. I would in general, consider myself a fairly cultured individual (especially by Thanet standards), but I left the Turner feeling *ripped off* -- and I hadn't even spent any money to get in!

    Also, I must say, while the centre may certainly have attracted a large number of *initial* visitors, is there really any reason for them to come back?

  9. "A bit of fluff": is that the best a so-called journalist from a public-funded organisation can come up with?! If I was an indignant, sanctimonious "taxpayer" I'd be asking for a refund of my TV license.

    So, some of the above comments seem to agree that the Arts are a waste of money and the Turner is "empty": I say stick to watching Topgear, ranting in the pub about something you've read in the tabloids and indulging in other empty pursuits because you obviously know nothing about the Arts, what the Turner has to offer and that our taxes are supposed to go towards the enrichment of society.

    The Turner being "empty": what utter nonsense!! The latest exhibition is crammed full of a rich variety of interesting, engaging art. I've also been to a concert there, seen a film that wouldn't be shown at one of the multiplexes and had the pleasure of attending more than one arts course, amongst other things.

    Turner Contemporary and the Old Town are an oasis in a cultural desert. Except for other artistically inclined people throughout Thanet I can only see the usual conformity to Corporate produced uniformity; such as Westwood Cross. Without the things that are happening thanks to a popular, thriving Arts Centre Thanet would be a much duller place to live in; if that's what all you naysayers want then I really feel sorry for you.

    Graham Hook

  10. I didn't want to enter into a discussion about the 'art' itself, but clearly all of those who claim there's nothing in the gallery or that it's 'empty' are going solely by the impression they got from Turner's opening exhibition Revealed. I myself found Turner's first exhibition extremely disappointing, but this second exhibition Nothing in the World But Youth (which opened in September) is absolutely fantastic - really eye-opening, thought-provoking and contains a very wide range of artworks by 94 different artists such as Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Dexter Dalwood. If you felt like the gallery was empty the last time you visited, it certainly bloody isn't now, so open your minds a bit.

    According to HMRC, there are 30.6 million taxpaying individuals in the UK for 2010/11, so Nick Robinson’s claim that £14 million of taxpayer’s money went into building the Turner Contemporary is still relatively small beer. Speaking theoretically, we're talking about a 45p contribution from each individual in the whole of the UK to construct the gallery. And as for the £2 million a year running cost, that's asking for a yearly contribution of 6p per person, which is possibly even less than that given the fact that the Turner Contemporary will make money from food and drinks in the cafe and selling books and merchandise. On those figures alone, is that really much of a burden on the taxpayer? I wouldn't say so.

    If you want to get picky, let's do a more detailed breakdown of the exact costs to come up with a more precise estimate:
    The £6.4 million contribution from Kent County Council to build the gallery adds up to a contribution of approximately £9.82 from each of the 651,300 taxpayers who live in Kent. South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) providing £4 million adds up to a further contribution of roughly £1.06p from each of the approximate 3.7 million taxpayers who live in the whole of the South East. And £4.1 million of financial support from the Arts Council adds up to an additional cost of approximately 13p from each of the 30.6 million taxpayers who live in the UK.

    In other words, each taxpayer in Kent probably ended up paying just £11.01p to build the gallery, something which now belongs to us all. So, when the costs are spread out in such a way over a period of many years, how exactly can you call it a burden? In the grand scheme of things, it's hardly breaking the bank. In fact, the amount of money it's brought into the local economy has already done far more to improve the local area both financially and reputationally than it would've done spending nothing.

  11. Your lack of objectivity and the fact that your "precise estimate" is fanciful (no mention of millions lost on original project, cost of Fort Hill work, M&S building, Old Town etc etc) suggests you are employed in the arts sector. Am I right? Using your schoolboy logic, I could ask for a £600,000 Christmas present, saying it's only 1p for every person in the country.

  12. Nice work Luke, the sort of financial analysis you don't get in the sensationalist media many of our art-haters go to for their opinions.

    It also has to be said that for every £1 that goes into the Arts the UK economy gets back around £3. People conveniently forget, now that Britain doesn't do manufacturing like it used to, our Tourist Industry is one of our biggest. I believe that 8 of our top ten tourist attractions are museums/art galleries. I bet the art-haters who support the Royal Family don't get the connection here.

    Whoops! One or two errors in my original post: like artistically inclined "people" instead of "projects/ventures". I'm typing "on the hoof" as it were.

    Graham Hook

  13. Luke, you may have noticed but KCC does not have a lot of spare cash. They are closing day centres, retirement homes, youth centres and many libraries are set for the chop. Users of other services like social care are seeing their charges go through the roof. So in the grand scheme of things KCC cannot afford to fund the TC. On top of the running costs of £2 millions KCC pay £100,000 a year for maintenance, give an additional educational grant of £250,000 and employ other people at Maidstone on TC work.
    And why should all of the UK's taxpayers pay for a gallery that most of them can never visit.
    Its a good deal for the people of Thanet, not so for the rest of the country, Thanet council dont put in a penny.
    Its only a very small proportion of the public that are interested in contemporary art.
    A few extra cakeshops in Margate dont signal a recovery in the towns fortunes. You may have also noticed that the East Kent Gazette does not believe the good times are comming - its closing soon.

  14. Bravo, give Anon 16:41 a cigar. Yes, I work for a social enterprise organisation which provides arts education programmes in schools, amongst other services, and what of it? Big whoop. And by the way, if you did ask for a £600,000 Christmas present for yourself on the grounds that it's only 1p for every person in the country, I would say that'd make you a victim to an ideology of selfishness which the arts palpably don't espouse. The arts are about giving something back which is socially useful. Are you honestly suggesting that giving yourself an individual present on the taxpayer's purse would be socially useful? If so, you're as bad as all those MPs.

  15. "Socially useful", "social enterprise organisation". Very small whoops all round.

  16. I must admit, I was a Turner Centre sceptic, but having seen the latest exhibition I was wowed. Whether it is the start of the regeneration of Margate or not, it is valuable for its own sake and for what it can give. I found Nick Robinson's analysis akin to a Tory political broadcast (am not the only one to do so, plenty of similar analogy in Sunday papers). His summation of TC and Margate was patronising in the extreme & to think we pay for him!