Newport Guildhall is on the IW Council list of assets which might be sold.
THE VIEW FROM HEREWHEN Margaret Thatcher embarked on a programme of privatisation, Harold Macmillan was scornful. "The sale of assets is common with individuals and states when they run into financial difficulties," he told the Tory Reform Group in 1985.
"First, all the Georgian silver goes and then all that nice furniture that used to be in the salon. Then the Canelettos go."
That was nearly 30 years ago and the old boy’s concept of how people cope with financial difficulties now seems utterly laughable. But even if it is no longer routine to have couple of spare Canelettos in our salon, the principle of Macmillan’s thinking remains the same.
The news the Guildhall in Newport is on the IW Council’s list of buildings or public open spaces which might be flogged off will be viewed with concern by those who believe historic public assets should not become the private domain of anyone with enough money to acquire them.
Dating back to 1819, the Guildhall is a Grade II listed building, designed by John Nash, the regency architect whose work includes the Royal Pavilion, Brighton, and much of Buckingham Palace.
It has a wealth of interesting structural features (among them Greek columns, an Ionic colonnade and a reeded parapet) as well as housing the important collection that is the Museum of Island History. And it belongs to us. That’s the people of the IW, particularly those who voted in this council of ours and shovel shedloads of our money into its coffers in the hope it might look after our assets in a proper manner.
The Guildhall’s inclusion on a potential for-sale list is a worrying indication of the council’s inability to do so.
John Metcalfe, the council’s deputy director for the economy, tourism and leisure, says the appearance of a property on the list does not necessarily mean it will be sold.
That is little comfort. The only guarantee of its remaining in public ownership would be its removal from the list.
While it remains as a possible sale item, with car parks, libraries, cottages, schools and, for all we know, Cllr Pugh’s pencil box and a couple of wonky loo seats (public toilets sold separately), there is no guarantee whatsoever of the future of the Guildhall.
Does it matter? You only have to look at the miserable record of Northwood House and Ryde Theatre to realise the council is inept at caring for its property. Wouldn’t it be better to flog everything to somebody better equipped to manage these assets in a competent manner?
Possibly. They couldn’t do a worse job. But even the best commercial companies falter (just look at poor old J. P. Morgan Chase, once considered unassailable in the banking world but now landed with £1.2bn losses at its London trading desk.)
Who knows the Guildhall might not end up on the scrapheap of entrepreneurial failure or appropriated for some ghastly money-making scheme?
Do we want it turned into a disco-cum-casino or a discount retail outlet on the whim of a Russian oligarch or wide-boy trader?
Is it too much to ask for a council which, even in these hard times, can keep a grip on those assets which belong to everybody and which we treasure?
Alas, taking a look at the present incumbents, I think we know the answer to that one.
Beware the snail mail for invitations
THIS exciting summer of celebration promises a wealth of social events and the Island’s glitterati will be eagerly waiting for the thrilling thwackety-thwack of numerous stiff, embossed invitations, preferably adorned with a fancy crest, tumbling on to their doormats.Places such as Bembridge are already in a state of high excitement at the prospect of all these high-echelon events. The village’s finest are even now tripping out to the post box with armfuls of invitations to dazzling functions, while nerves are a-jangle at the thought of being left off the list.
Excuses are being made to drop in on neighbours, simply so their mantelpieces can be stealthily scoured for any signs of social snubbing.
Imagine the alarm, therefore, when one Bembridge resident popped a card into her nearest pillar box (in Swains Road, no less) only to discover it had been eventually delivered, quite late, partially destroyed and in a disgusting, slimy state, with its recipient horrified to learn it had been eaten by snails.
Have these snails no sense of decorum? To take up residence in the Swains Road post box is bad enough but to chew and ooze their way through the Island’s most prestigious correspondence during jubilee season is positively lese-majeste.
Residents of Bembridge, you have been warned. All mail should be henceforth be delivered by horse-drawn post-chaise, with an armed postilion at the ready to ward off snails.