So central Birmingham is spending £2 million on a clock. Ignoring the contentious fact that this is part of the controversial HS2 project, it does once again raise the question of what public funds should be used for.
The PR spin will say this is a worthwhile project that will provide footfall to Birmingham, based on in-depth analysis that an additional XX visitors will spend YY, that means it will generate Billions and make the £2m a paltry insignificant sum. Except that they are spending an actual £2m, that could be spent on hospitals, libraries, other public services. Any exponential visitors are hard to measure. So here’s a competition – Hull, is the current European city of culture, this year they will get loads of extra visitors. Name one thing that all those visitors are coming for? Thought not, it’s the overall events and activities. Had they spent £2m on a clock, that wouldn’t be bringing in any additional visitors, it would just be one more attraction for those visitors to go too.
But there is another problem with these grandiose schemes. These huge art competitions tend to create a culture of international artists trying to implement challenging schemes to win. And thankfully some of these were overlooked, the train crash one, possibly all too apt with HS2! They are international, they are not local. This clock has nothing to do with Birmingham, it is just an anodyne artwork parachuted into that location. Of course by the time it gets built and modified it will have a developed a local flavour, local voices, but does this really make it unique to Brum? Not really.
Another possible public folly is the garden bridge in London, currently being reviewed to evaluate if it justifies the expense. Couldn’t they just put flowers and greenery on all the existing bridges? Well they could, and that might look really nice. But it wouldn’t be a “concept” would it, so that won’t count.