MPs attack history tour as a pub crawl funded by taxpayers

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Indy Politics

It's the kind of kitty that beer drinkers dream of - £15,000 to spend on a pub crawl. So when a group of Birmingham artists were handed that amount to organise a tour of the city's watering holes, the critics were quick to have their say.

It's the kind of kitty that beer drinkers dream of - £15,000 to spend on a pub crawl. So when a group of Birmingham artists were handed that amount to organise a tour of the city's watering holes, the critics were quick to have their say.

The Arts Council-funded project will see two artists, accompanied by 30 members of the public, spend an afternoon doing the rounds of historic pubs in the city. The five-hour tour through the city centre Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth area will include a buffet lunch and live music but not, according to the organisers, liquid refreshment. The funding, they said, was earmarked for food, entertainment, information and other activities to accompany the tour. Those fancying drinks would have to buy their own, one of the artists said.

But the idea of an Arts Council-funded pub tour has proved too much for some. Andrew Mitchell, Conservative MP for nearby Sutton Coldfield, said: "This sounds suspiciously like public money being used on a pub crawl. If the Arts Council is paying for this, it will have to fully explain their reasoning to the long-suffering taxpayer."

Julie Kirkbride, former shadow culture secretary, said: "There is always debate about what makes an artistic project. This does seem to cross the line of what is reasonable for taxpayers to pay for. It should have been commercially funded."

Publicity material for the project, entitled The Distance Between Us, says it "highlights the poignant fact that in the midst of contemporary regeneration, the traditional public house is fast becoming a thing of the past, being replaced by themed bars, gastro pubs and national chains".

Alli Belloes, of Capital Art Projects, the organisers of the 25 September event, said: "There will be no alcohol consumed within the tour. They will be going into the pubs, but it is to discuss the interior of the buildings and how they have been affected by the regeneration programme. It is more a comment about how the character and identity of the city has been erased through regeneration. We are encouraging people to stay with us on the tour. There's nothing to stop them having a drink and staying in the pub, but they are not going to really have time to do that."

She said that two of the pubs are threatened with redevelopment and the other three are Grade 2 listed buildings. Participants will be given information leaflets about the buildings and historical events that have happened around them.

An Arts Council spokesman defended the decision to fund the project. He said: "You don't have to drink to enjoy these buildings. Pubs are part of our cultural heritage and it is too simplistic to say that this project is a pub crawl."

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