A Government quango which spent £140,000 of taxpayers' money to fund research into the history of pockets was accused today of "totally wasting" public funds on frivolous projects.
The grant was awarded to Southampton University by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). The cash was to be used over three years to employ two researchers and cover the costs of presenting a touring exhibition, which is currently based in Bath, Somerset.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Tory MP for Cotswold, condemned the AHRC - which spends more than £90m of public money each year - for supporting the project. He said it was "unbelievable" that money was being used in such a way when patients across the country were facing hospital closures and budget cuts.
"This isn't going to help anybody," he said. "This is the sort of thing that should be done privately. I shall be putting down a parliamentary question on Monday about the decision-making process for this project and what role the Government has in it."
Katherine Murphy, from the Patients Association, said patients would be angered that a sum of money that would pay the wages of three full-time nurses for a year was being "wasted" on such a project.
Researchers at the Winchester School of Art and Textiles, where the project was based, used the cash to explore the history of the tie-on pocket - worn by women under their petticoats or aprons from the late 17th century. Professor Tony McEnery, director of research at the AHRC, argued that the project helped "underpin" the British fashion and heritage industries. He said decisions on funding were taken by experts who assessed bids on the basis of quality of the research and whether it had economic significance.
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