With Croydon Council’s “unethical” auction of 24 pieces of the Riesco Collection of precious porcelain now barely a month away, there has been no let-up in the deceit being spouted about the disposal by Tim Pollard, the deputy leader of the Conservative group which controls the Town Hall.
Pollard’s comments are exposed as lies by confidential council documents obtained by Inside Croydon.
As recently as this month, in an article published by The Grauniad, Pollard asserted, “Given the unaffordable security and insurance costs for these 24 pieces, we are not able to keep them on display to the public. We would need to employ extra staff and significantly upgrade security to do so.”
While Pollard and his Tory mates on the council greedily eye the £13 million they reckon the auction of the priceless china might realise in Hong Kong next month – and go some way to getting them off the hook over their crass mismanagement of Croydon’s borough finances – the confidential Croydon Council report states that insurers advised the council that the “security enhancements” required would represent a one-off cost of… £48,000.
To inflate the final figure, perhaps to make it seem more “unaffordable”, a hefty 25 per cent contingency fund was added. It still seems a modest amount when you consider the £420,000 cost of securing the now empty Taberner House, spending that Pollard and his colleagues recently approved after moving into their new £140 million council offices.
It is worth noting that Pollard, together with his wife, fellow councillor Helen Pollard, between them receive more than £77,000 in “allowances” from Croydon Council each year.
Is this “unaffordable” for the people of Croydon?
When challenged in an online discussion about the fact that the council had not insured the collection for at least the past five years, Pollard wrote for The Grauniad, “Upon taking responsibility for this area last year I was horrified to learn that we had £15million’s worth of very portable ceramics on display and it wasn’t even insured… It would have been wholly irresponsible to have left that situation in place once I became aware of it. So in future we will have to insure the collection and the removal of the highest value items makes this a more practical proposition.”
Is it really “impractical” to insure the collection, as Pollard asserts? According to the council’s own insurers, Zurich, an annual premium to insure all of the irreplaceable Riesco Collection – including the 24 most valuable items – would cost an annual premium of
Hardly the “unaffordable” amount which Pollard tries to suggest (insurers are usually unwilling to take on any risk of underwriting priceless museum pieces; the policy offered may not be worth paying for, a judgement that has been made in the past and by many other fully accredited museums).
Pollard, a councillor for Sanderstead ward, is just as dissembling over the truth about the ownership of the Riesco Collection, even to the point of contradicting information published by the council’s own website. “Just because something appears on a website doesn’t necessarily make it true!” he wrote. Such a joker!
And just because a £45,000 a year Tory councillor says something doesn’t necessarily make that true, either.
Key here is whether Croydon Council bought the porcelain collection from local entrepreneur Raymond Riesco, or whether it was left to the borough as a gift.
Pollard tried to pass this off to The Grauniad: “For years everyone involved in running Croydon’s museum service was under the impression that the collection – and the house…”, meaning Heathfield House, the Riesco family home, “was a bequest… This urban myth was repeated, in good faith, by generation after generation of council officer and councillor. Only when we went back to review the legal basis for disposal did we find that it wasn’t actually what happened.”
Pollard has gone to great lengths to try to suggest that as the council paid for the china, he can now do what he bloody well likes with it. Whereas, if the collection was left to the borough as a bequest by Riesco, it can be argued that the china is therefore held in trust for the people of Croydon – and not in the gift of a here-today-gone-tomorrow Town Hall politician to flog off at times of financial hardship.
We don’t know what legal documents Pollard has been looking at, but local resident and semi-retired lawyer David White went to the trouble of forcing the council to release the Riesco Collection’s deeds into the public domain through a Freedom of Information Act request.
And as far as Pollard’s assertion that Croydon Council ever purchased the china collection, White is categorical: “Councillor Pollard is not correct on this.
“The basis on which Raymond Riesco gave his collection is set out in an agreement dated December 1, 1959,” White told Inside Croydon.
“In 1945, Mr Riesco had agreed to sell hisin Addington to the council for £83,000. This was a sale of land only and did not include the porcelain collection. By 1959 part of the land had been transferred. The 1959 agreement provides that, on completion of transfer of the remaining land, ‘Mr Riesco… will transfer to the Corporation his collection of Oriental China…’
“No additional payment was required for the china, though there were certain conditions, such as the fact the collection had to be kept on public display at Heathfield House for a minimum of 15 years, after which it could be ‘… suitably re-housed in another building… either on the Heathfield Estate or elsewhere in Croydon’.”
White concluded: “Seeing that Croydon paid nothing to Mr Riesco for the collection it is quite clear it was a gift, not a sale.”
Which raises serious questions about the motivation for Pollard, a senior councillor who has council executives and expensive counsel available, at vast public expenses to offer him advice, has repeatedly made the same misleading statements about the Riesco Collection’s ownership.
- The Riesco resignation: Doesn’t Pollard read his mail?
- Pollard ducks decisive meeting on £13m Riesco sale
- Riesco objections: Croydon Council’s squandering our heritage
- Is Croydon on the brink with £1 billion borough debt?
Coming to Croydon
- Arena academy public meeting: Oct 16
- Crystal Palace Concerts – “I have a dream”: Oct 17
- The Firebird, family concert: Oct 20
- Lakes Playground group’s fundraising Zumba-ween: Oct 26
- PJ’s enterprising look at Black History Month: Oct 29
- Secret Love at the Ashcroft Theatre: Nov 14
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough – 262,183 page views (Jan-Jun 2013)
- Post your comments on this article below.
- If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org