Ministers have been accused of “losing the plot” after setting aside ?8m to offer every public body a free portrait of King Charles.
In a move that drew criticism amid complaints of shrinking budgets across Whitehall and local government, Oliver Dowden, the cabinet office minister, said it was part of plans to celebrate the new reign and bring the nation together.
Dowden, who has also been co-ordinating the government’s response to the public sector strikes over pay, said local councils, courts, schools, police forces and fire and rescue services will be among the public institutions eligible for a free portrait, before the coronation at the beginning of May.
“We have entered a new reign in our history,” Dowden said. “Now as we unite in preparing for the splendour of the king’s coronation, these new portraits will serve as a visible reminder in buildings up and down the country of the nation’s ultimate public servant.
“They will help us turn a page in our history together – and pay a fitting tribute to our new sovereign. I am sure the portraits will take pride of place in public buildings across the land.”
However, it drew immediate criticism from anti-monarchy campaigners last night. Graham Smith, from the Republic group, called for the scheme to be scrapped. “This is a shameful waste of money,” he said. “At a time when a majority of local councils are raising taxes and cutting public services, when schools and hospitals are struggling, to spend even ?1 on this nonsense would be ?1 too much.
“The government has lost the plot if they think that people want their money spent on pictures of Charles. They need to scrap this scheme and direct the money where it’s really needed.
“The coronation is estimated to cost anything from ?50m to ?100m – and we can see why. This waste is absolutely scandalous.”
The government said that official portraits of Queen Elizabeth II were currently on display in many public institutions, and “offering of the new official portrait of King Charles III will enable organisations across the UK to carry on that tradition”.
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It added: “It is right that public authorities, as part of the fabric of our nation, have the opportunity to commemorate this moment, strengthen civic pride, and reflect the new era in our history.”
John Glen, chief secretary to the Treasury, said the scheme would “allow thousands of public institutions across the UK to mark this defining moment in our nation’s history with pride”.