My wife laughed when the thick embossed invitation card arrived. It was to the opening of the new toilets at Lincoln Cathedral.
I went, and it was a fine event. Because of the train timetable I had to come an hour early, and had an opportunity to have a proper tour of the Cathedral.
We gasp in awe at these buildings, but we know, most of us, little about their extraordinary history. I knew that only the great west arches remain of Remigius’ original Norman cathedral. But I didn’t know that when the remaining arches were incorporated into Bishop Alexander’s early English structure, that they got the alignment wrong and the whole thing is slightly off-centre.
Of course it’s a cliché to say that this extraordinary labour of masonry built over 150 years is all in praise of God, but true nonetheless.
Back to the toilets. They are the first new building within the precincts for 100 years. They have cost the best part of a million pounds, and are beautiful. Every detail is of the highest quality and built to last, including the large stained-glass window. Built in sturdy stone, they will stand for centuries. The cathedral, with no difficulty, can last another thousand years.
Why can we not put similar effort into the rest of the public sector? As Macmillan said, people walk in public parks but they tend their own gardens.
The same day the National Audit Office published another report on a failed public sector IT project, which is a year late and has doubled in price.
Will civil servants ever husband public money as if it were their own? There is the unfashionable comment to be made. The builders of the cathedral were dedicating their work every hour of the day to God. Perhaps they were sometimes over budget and certainly over time. But they built to last.
‘Except the Lord shall build the house, they labour in vain that build it’ (Psalm 127).
By Edward Leigh MP