There has been huge domestic and international interest in our decision to sell a much loved Henry Moore sculpture, 'Old Flo', that our borough bought many years ago - it wasn't donated to us as press reports have erroneously claimed.
We are not the first authority to explore raising much needed revenue at a time of austerity from selling works of art. Last year Bolton Council put up 30 five works of art to be sold, including works by Millais, Picasso and Hutchison. Back in 2006, Bury Council raised £1.4 million by selling LS Lowry's A Riverbank.
If only there was as much national media interest in the fact that we are being forced to make £100million cuts by 2015, as there has been over the proposed sale of this sculpture to mitigate the effect of some of those cuts.
I understand the strong feelings that the proposed sale of this iconic and popular sculpture arouses. But with more cuts to come my priority is to protect front line services and that entails having to make some tough decisions.
According to a recent online poll by a local east end newspaper, 55% of people strongly support our decision to put the sculpture up for sale. Only 18% supported it being placed in Victoria Park. It has been less widely reported that the sculpture has been on loan to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for the past 15 years, and that not surprisngly few Tower Hamlets residents have been able to afford to go and view it.
We have obviously looked at various options including bringing the sculpture back and placing it is a public place, but the costs of insurance and the risk of vandalism and theft are too big and too serious.
Every penny raised from an auction of the sculpture will be ring-fenced to benefit the borough as a whole; being used to support heritage projects, services for young people, community safety programmes and affordable housing. Over the past two years, my administration has managed to preserve free home-care in Tower Hamlets, instituted a living wage, reinstated the Education Maintenance Allowance for our young people, and built the highest number of affordable homes for rent in the country.
I believe that we are making the right decision, but in circumstances that we would not have chosen. It may interest some of our critics that the minister responsible for exerting extra pressure on authorities such as mine to realise the value of our assets is one Eric Pickles, although I can't help but notice that the local government minister has been keeping fairly quiet of late on this issue.
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