A councillor has defended the decision to bring the Knife Angel to Lichfield after being questioned on the move.
The sculpture, made up of thousands of blades, was installed on Frog Lane for a month earlier this year.
A report to a meeting of Lichfield District Council’s overview and scrutiny committee last week said lessons needed to be learned in the wake of 27ft high statue’s visit.
The decision to hand out civic awards to some of those involved in the month-long stay has also been questioned.
But Cllr Richard Cox, cabinet member for community engagement, told the committee meeting that the positives from the Knife Angel being in Lichfield were clear to see.
“I appreciate that the district has low knife crime, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any. Potentially, it is out there and we have to recognise that.
“By hosting the Knife Angel we were able to engage with schools and reached out to 2,000 children.
“There may be questions about the location, but there was good footfall over the month – a lot of people were even coming back with other members of their family.
“There were also positives in the bleed kits we have distributed and training sessions with retailers and restaurants across the district.
“For me the awards were a contractual part of it – it was more of an acknowledgement of participation rather than self-gratification.
“If you look at the list you’ve got a 12-year-old young lad that who produced an extraordinary rap that he wrote because his brother had been the victim of a knife attack.
“There were heart-wrenching issues being addressed by us having it and acknowledgement of that activity is not the major part of it, but it is a recognition that we didn’t do this alone and that we did it with partners to get the message out about knife crime and create a legacy.”Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council
But some members of the committee questioned how and why the spending on the Knife Angel had been approved.
Cllr Claire Booker, Labour representative for Whittington and Streethay, said:
“Anything that can save even one life is worth considering. However, could this money have been spent on more projects? Maybe. Would the spread have reached those same people? Maybe, maybe not – who knows.
“The public health conundrum is that we can’t always see the impact or measure of what we prevent. But my question would be how much does Lichfield District Council usually spend or budget for public health messaging and events? Does it have a public health programme?
“If knife crime was the public health champion for 2023 and that’s what it is about, then this would have been part of it. If we don’t have a programme and this was just someone’s pet project then there’s a lot of questions to ask.”Cllr Claire Booker, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Cox told Cllr Booker that the Knife Angel’s arrival was not linked to any public health initiative. He said:
“For me, this was public safety and recognising the safety of our community. The majority of the funding was coming from the Staffordshire Commissioner.
“In terms of the reach, we actually reached within a month a lot of areas that could have been done over a period of 12 months where the money could have been spent, but we were able to concentrate and create a legacy from it.”Cllr Richard Cox, Lichfield District Council
“There was never any anticipated outcomes”
The meeting was told that the Knife Angel had come to be in Lichfield after an opportunity arose to host the sculpture when an officer from the council had visited it in Nuneaton.
But Cllr Sue Woodward, leader of the Labour opposition group at the local authority, said not enough had been done to ensure councillors were given the chance to have a say on the merits of bringing the sculpture to the city.
“Form my perspective, it was knee-jerk to say ‘let’s host it’ – members didn’t know until May and early June.
“I asked questions about costs, anticipated outcomes and measurement, and contractual obligations. Eventually, we have received this information, but there was never anticipated outcomes.
“I’ve looked at the community safety partnership delivery plan and there’s one reference to a knife, and that is the installation of knife bins. Within that plan there is no reference to the need to address knife crime.
“There’s a complete dislocation between the actions of the community safety partnership and the Knife Angel coming to this area.
“There were aspects that were very positive with lots of awareness and engagement, but there are huge lessons to be learned. If we’re serious about community safety and a plan addressing the priorities lets focus on those and not divert money into some nice to have event that doesn’t address those priorities.
“The whole project was not adequately thought through. It was taken as an opportunity and it became a little but too much of a carnival.”Cllr Sue Woodward, Lichfield District Council
Cllr Miles Trent, Lib Dem representative for Chadsmead, said councillors should not underestimate the value of raising awareness of knife crime to youngsters across the district.
“I take a slightly less negative view than some of those who have commented.
“I do think it was a positive initiative for two reasons. Firstly, getting knives off the streets – 300 so far – and secondly education. I’ve read with great interest the feedback form schools and that is a valuable start in terms of spreading awareness.
“This is a low knife crime area, but there is no room for complacency, particularly given that in the news we’re seeing knife crime in areas that perhaps you wouldn’t expect elsewhere in the country.”Cllr Miles Trent, Lichfield District Council