Cuts? What cuts? The government is still adding to its art collection

Feeling irritated by the tax rises and benefit cuts already coming your way? Tense already about how many more you’ll be hit with when the round of austerity really gets going? If so, you won’t want to know that over the last year, at the same time as it’s been working to figure out just how poor it can make you before you move to Australia, the government has been buying contemporary art.

Despite the Government Art Collection already owning a vast and very impressive collection of around 13,500 paintings worth around £100m and dating back to the 1600s, it still gets a grant of somewhere in the region of £500,000 a year to spend on stuff for offices at home and stuff to send to foreign missions to “show the vibrancy and variety of British artistic life and heritage”.

So far this year it has, says The Sunday Times, spent £4,700 on a photo of a puddle, £57,000 on an installation of squashed fruit baskets and plates for the British ambassador’s residence in Paris, and £64,000 on “illuminated kinetic sculptural installations” for the Ministry of Justice.

All this pales into peanuts next to Philip Green’s report on government inefficiency – it turns out we could save £700m on telecoms alone – and next to the recent rise in our contribution to the EU (up £5.2bn, or five times the savings made by slashing child benefit in the last couple of years). But, just like the fact that there are still ads out there from councils for Community Space Challenge Co-ordinators and the like, it shows that large parts of the public sector just don’t get it.

I’m all for the scaling back of the state, for the end of universal benefits, and for caps on the amount anyone who doesn’t much fancy working can get from the state. But before too many more maternity wards are shut I’d really like to hear a promise from David Cameron making it clear that even as there are women giving birth in corridors there isn’t a government official handing over one of our credit cards in exchange for more puddle photos for his office.