Faux art lovers splash out on painting while people are going hungry and can’t afford to heat their homes – eccentric councillors Bailie Denis Agnew and SNP group leader Jonathan McColl.

NOTEBOOK by Bill Heaney

MSP Jackie Baillie has rightly blasted the “stone deaf” SNP council who are to spend more than £24,000 on a painting while West Dunbartonshire residents are caught in the grip of a cost of living crisis.

Members of the cultural committee yesterday voted in favour of splashing the cash on one individual painting despite people locally struggling to pay their bills.

Three voting members were present at the meeting with Labour councillor John Millar the only member to vote against the spend.

SNP council leader Jonathan McColl and Independent Bailie Denis Agnew, who is the chair of the committee, teamed up to vote in favour of dedicating public money to the exorbitant purchase.

Raging – Labour MSP Jackie Baillie and Labour councillor John Millar who was so furious with the council decision that he asked that his dissent be officially recorded in the minutes.

Jackie Baillie MSP said: “Splashing out more than £24,000 on a painting at a time when thousands of people in the area are staring down the barrel of a cost of living crisis is appalling. It shows this SNP council is completely out of touch with the hard-working, hard-pressed people in our communities.

“They are stone deaf to the needs of people in the area, spending exorbitant sums on pieces of art while families are faced with the choice of heating their homes or putting food on the table as everyday costs rocket.”

Leven councillor and member of the Cultural Committee John Millar moved an amendment opposing the purchase of the £24,000 oil painting.

As there were only three elected members present, he was unable to get a seconder so his amendment fell.

The chair of the meeting Bailie Agnew had moved that the committee purchase the artwork and this was seconded by SNP leader of the council Jonathan McColl. As a result, the motion was agreed by Bailie Agnew and Jonathan McColl.

Councillor Millar was so furious with the move that he asked that his dissent be officially recorded in the minutes.

Last month it was revealed that West Dunbartonshire Council had spent almost £75,000 on fine art to add to its collection – including a nude sketch by one of Scotland’s best known artists.

Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter:

The council’s cultural committee meeting, chaired by Bailie Agnew, was scheduled for last week but did not take place.

However, an email had been sent to councillors about an “urgent item of business” which was “at the request” of Bailie Agnew, an Independent who supports the SNP at every turn, including the list of cuts in services imposed by them over the past four years.

Attached was an image of “Evelick” – a painting of roses (above) by Greenock artist Alison Watt, pictured left by Bill Heaney at the Edinburgh Book Festival, which has a price tag of £24,000 excluding VAT.

A committee paper stated that officers had continued to research “acquisition opportunities” and make contact with selling galleries.

That report said: “A particular focus of this activity has been on identifying works by Alison Watt currently available on the open market.

“It has not been possible to bring any firm recommendation to committee on purchasing any works by Watt at this time.

“Should a suitable work by Watt be identified by officers, they will seek to bring this before committee as a matter of urgency.”

Councillor Martin Rooney, pictured right, leader of the authority’s Labour opposition group, said: “I’m absolutely appalled that the SNP council are giving this serious consideration.

“Everybody knows that West Dunbartonshire has some of the worst areas of deprivation in Scotland, child poverty was already on the rise, life chances for our young people are below the national average, we have families struggling to buy food, pensioners who are facing sky-high fuel bills, demand for help from food banks is increasing as donations are squeezed.

“The real matter of urgency in our area is the cost of living crisis but the SNP council priority is to spend almost £28,000 on an oil painting that will be locked away in a cupboard.

“How can the SNP justify this? It’s absurd at the best of times but completely bonkers in the middle of a cost of living crisis.”

The council’s cultural committee met in November and selected 14 works to purchase with cash from a £100,000 fund set aside for the purpose last year.

Another two pieces were approved for purchase at the committee’s December meeting, including “Nude Study” by the Scottish colourist Samuel Peploe from 1930.

Jonathan McColl said: “The funding for this asset investment comes from a capital fund specifically for this purpose; accounting rules prohibit us using capital funding for revenue costs, revenue being the funding that delivers council services.

“That means that this has no impact or relation to the savings options referred to by Cllr Rooney. I suspect that Labour do know this, but perhaps not since Labour have not had their member of the committee in attendance since May 2018; in fact out of 26 meetings since September 2017, Labour’s member has attended only that single meeting.

“It’s disingenuous of Labour to criticise reports from officers or decisions of the committee when they can’t be bothered to show up, be part of the debate, and do their job. A member of staff wouldn’t get away with nearly four years of absence from work and I think that Labour councillors should hold themselves to the same standard we expect of council staff.”

A spokesperson from West Dunbartonshire Council said: “In March 2018 the Council agreed to create a £4m Cultural Capital Fund to invest in West Dunbartonshire’s cultural and heritage infrastructure. From this, £100,000 was committed to establish an Acquisition Fund to purchase fine art works  with a particular emphasis on works by Scottish women artists.”

Speaking after the meeting Councillor Millar said: “I was really annoyed at the decision to purchase the painting and that was why I wanted my dissent recorded in the minutes.

“Spending money on fine arts when people are stretched to the limits and struggling to make ends meet is not on. It just shows how detached these people are from the majority of our residents who are experiencing hardship right now.

“Today, the urgency for the SNP council wasn’t food banks or the cost of living, it was buying a work of art and planning where to hang it. The SNP have lost the plot and I can’t see how this is going to wash with the hard-working people of West Dunbartonshire.”

  • Top of page picture: This famous painting from the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh would have been a more appropriate purchase, if anything at all was appropriate, is Distraining for Rent, a painting by Sir David Wilkie of a family being evicted from their home by bailifs after they had fallen behind with their rent. Editor

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