The Council has been subjected to severe criticism in the local press in the weeks following the fire at the Burns Monument. The Council are in a difficult position. Whatever they do they attract criticism, some deserved, much not.
It is a red herring to say that the Council has no money. It has plenty of money - but it has to prioritise. East Ayrshire Council does invest in culture. It has chosen to spend money on The Palace Theatre and Dean Castle ahead of the Burns Monument, and, if you look at the Council coffers overall rather than on a department by department basis, it has also chosen town centre traffic management and other road safety issues ahead of the monument. All these are legitimate choices
The Council maintain that they have been effective champions of our heritage. The destruction of the Burns Monument cannot be defended as wise use of public resources. Whilst many of their actions deserve applause, I take the view that they should invest more in culture and get better value from current spending.
There are strong economic arguments to support the view that spending on culture is money well spent and getting into arguments about whether we spend money on hospitals or theatres is futile. We need both. There is little to be gained from a society where we have comfortable homes, but are fearful of walking up the main street of the town of an evening.
The Council has a responsibility to plan for the future and a duty to protect the town's built heritage and environment. This calls for choices and priorities. It is easy with hindsight to see that there were times in the recent past when we have got the balance wrong. The town is still being developed and we are fortunate to have some local companies willing to invest in imaginative projects. Much of the town's built heritage has been destroyed. We can't afford to get it wrong again.
The Burns Monument was and remains, a critical part of Kilmarnock's cultural heritage. It must be rebuilt - and it should be part of a wider regeneration of the town.
Pete Heywood is a Director of a Kilmarnock based arts business and Director of Common Ground Scotland. He has had an interest in Arts Tourism and the economy of the arts since the early 1980s. Just prior to the monument fire, he was in discussions with East Ayrshire Council about possible solutions to the various problems of the monument and the Kay Park.