Councillors in Margaret Thatcher’s home town have voted for plans to underwrite a £100,000 unveiling ceremony for a statue of the former prime minister to be reviewed.
South Kesteven district council’s cabinet had previously agreed to allocate funding for the event, due to be held in Grantham, Lincolnshire, this year, in the anticipation that they would be able to recoup the money in donations.
But the council’s culture and visitor economy overview and scrutiny committee has voted in favour of asking the cabinet to review the decision and provide additional information on the event’s costs.
Paul Fellows, an independent councillor and member of the committee, put forward the motion for the cabinet’s decision to be further scrutinised.
He said: “As a scrutiny committee our decision was to look at the procedure process. It was not about whether or not we should have the statue. That decision had already been made and agreed through the planning committee.”
Fellows had raised doubts about whether the cabinet had followed the correct procedures, and put forward a successful motion for the cabinet to “come up with some justification for why they think that that is a reasonable decision to make”.
Grantham Community Heritage Association (GCHA), which runs the Grantham Museum, and South Kesteven district council worked with the Public Memorials Appeal to draft a planning application for the statue, which was approved in 2019.
The bronze statue, at 10.5ft (3.2 metres), was offered to the district council after proposals to erect it in Parliament Square, in central London, were rejected by Westminster council in 2018 as councillors feared it would be attract protests.
The statue has been paid for by the Public Memorials Trust, a charity that aims to commission and erect memorials of historically important figures. Money raised by the GCHA Margaret Thatcher Appeal will help deliver the statue. No public funds have been used.
The council’s decision to underwrite a £100,000 unveiling ceremony had reignited the debate on whether the statue should be erected at all.
The Liberal Democrat councillor Amanda Wheeler said: “I think it’s embarrassing that the district council even contemplate spending £100,000. It’s so out of touch with where we are right now as a country.”
Wheeler said a recent housing report for Grantham had placed the council into special measures yet it wanted “to blow £100,000 on salmon, caviar, and champagne”.
She added: “I can understand the statue being in Grantham, not that I approve of it, nor am I going to challenge that, but under no circumstances should we be having this big celebration party.”
At a public meeting to discuss the ceremony – which took place over Skype on Tuesday – members of the public logged in using the names Arthur Scargill and John Major.
The Labour councillor Charmaine Morgan, who stepped down as a member of the planning committee in 2019 to speak in opposition to the planned statue, said: “It feels like the council is fiddling while we are burning. They want this big ‘feel good’ event, when thousands of people in our district are struggling to put food on the table. I think they’ve gotten their priorities completely wrong.”
Amanda Schonhut, the director of fundraising for Grantham Museum, which is run by Grantham Community Heritage Association (GCHA), previously said the issue continued to divide the town. “It’s been a bit like a mini-Brexit,” she said.
According to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, the council leader, Kelham Cooke, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost tourism and to raise the profile of Grantham”.
“Already I have had several expressions of interest to donate towards the cost of the event which is a huge vote of confidence for us,” he said.