Council report admits overwhelming opposition to Riesco sale

This is how “consultation” operates in Tory-run Croydon Council.

Timothy Godfrey: called for a 12-month halt to the Riesco sale

Timothy Godfrey: called for a 12-month halt to the Riesco sale

The council had its hand forced (through questions by Inside Croydon) to admit that it had already off-loaded 24 pieces of precious china to a posh West End auction house and is trying, sneakily, to flog off part of the historic Riesco Collection, which was gifted to the borough nearly half a century ago. Would they have bothered telling anyone had they not been found out?

The council then claimed it has to sell the items because of “escalating” insurance costs. But then, through a Freedom of Information request, the council was forced to admit that it has actually not bothered to insure the collection for the past five years, if ever. So much for that piece of council BS.

Its hand forced, Croydon Council then had to go through the motions of following standing policy by consulting “stakeholders”. According to the report going before the council’s corporate services committee next Wednesday, “External expert advice will be obtained and the views of stakeholders such as donors, researchers, local and source communities and others served by the museum will also be sought”.

Responses were received by Croydon from Arts Council England; Greater London Authority Culture Team; Heritage Lottery Fund; Museums Association; Museum of London; and members of Croydon’s Local Studies Forum.

The council’s own report for next week’s meeting then states: “In addition correspondence and feedback was received from local interested people.

“In summary all respondents (with the exception of one person who was in favour of the sale) indicated their concern and disagreement with the proposal to sell the items.”

Yes, all bar one of the experts, government agencies and local residents who contacted the council were against Croydon Council flogging off this part of the Riesco Collection.

Now, having conducted such a consultation and got that sort of response, what do you think that the council officials – led by Paul Greenhalgh executive director for children, families and learning – recommended to the councillors on the committee? To go ahead and flog ’em anyway:

“Having considered the proposal to dispose of part of the Riesco collection of Chinese Ceramics and the responses from the stakeholder engagement he agree that officers be authorised to proceed to dispose of, by sale, 24 items from the Riesco collection”.

That recommendation flies in the face of the findings of its own consultation. Writing of the responses from the experts, funding agencies and museums, the very same Croydon Council report admits, “They have principally expressed concern about the proposal on the grounds that it is against the code of ethics of the Museums Association and the national standards for museum accreditation”. This confirms the news, also first published on Inside Croydon, that the sale risks Croydon Museum being stripped of its national accreditation.

Chinese whispers: one item from the Riesco Collection that Croydon Council wants to flog off

Chinese whispers: one item from the Riesco Collection that Croydon Council wants to flog off

Further, Croydon Council has been advised that the sale “runs counter to the council’s policy” and that it “is not part of a strategic review of the collections as required by the policy”.

The council’s own report details another half-dozen serious flaws with the sale, including the failure of the proceeds to be “reinvested for the benefit of the collection”; and that “should a sale go ahead it will erode public confidence and trust in the position of public institutions as custodians of heritage collections” (in the words of Dr John Holmes: no shit, Sherlock).

The council’s own report admits that its advice says that, “‘The argument of exceptional circumstances’ is not supported”. Other points included:

  • “It is against the spirit of the intentions of Raymond Riesco when the collection was transferred to the ownership of the council”, the council’s report states.
  • “The Museums Service is likely to lose its status as an accredited museum service which will have a knock on impact on future funding sources”.
  • The Heritage Lottery Fund has “advised that if the sale resulted in the loss of accreditation that they may consider attempting to claw back some or all of their 1995 investment of £934,000 in the museum service”.

The report gives as the reason for the sale the projected £13 million proceeds – with values boosted by a buoyant market for Chinese antiquities in China – which would be used towards the refurbishment of the “iconic” (yes, they really did use the word) Fairfield Halls.

Vital details of the costs of retaining the collection are not available to the public, and contained only within the secret Part B of the report.

“Without the receipt from the sale there will be the need to borrow capital funds for the necessary refurbishment of the Fairfield Halls. This borrowing would therefore increase the level of Council debt and have to compete against other statutory responsibilities the council has such as providing additional school places. There is no guarantee that the council will be able to fund this in the coming years.”

So, this is an admission that the council is effectively broke. It is an admission that they have undertaken to fund £27 million-worth of refurbishments to the Fairfield Halls – not a council-owned venue at present – without ensuring that they have the means to do so.

And all this from a council which has already borrowed very heavily in order to bale out the struggling URV property speculation joint venture with Laings.

In short, the report is further evidence of incompetence and mismanagement of the borough by the current administration, with the effect that they have to resort to a high-risk strategy to get themselves out of a financial hole of their own creation, at the expense of Croydon’s gradually eroded heritage.

The opposition group at the Town Hall, realising that next Wednesday’s committee has a built-in Tory majority likely to ignore the best advice and approve the sale, has therefore called for a 12-month moratorium, daring the Conservatives to make the Riesco sale part of their election manifesto for next May’s Town Hall elections.

“It is breaking its bond of trust with the people of Croydon in selling this collection without asking the people of Croydon first,” said Timothy Godfrey, the Labour group’s spokesman on arts and culture.

“If the Conservatives have any integrity, they will wait just 12 months and allow the people of Croydon to choose between Labour and the Tories on this issue.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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5 Responses to Council report admits overwhelming opposition to Riesco sale

  1. this type of council ‘consultation’ travesties seems to be endemic (not exclusive to croydon) – still shocking, every single time it happens!

  2. davidcallam says:

    This much is clear: the borough is in serious financial difficulties, due largely to the ineptitude of some senior members and officers of the council and their dodgy property dealings.
    They are panicking, fearing the bailiff’s knock before the elections next May. So they have hatched a plan to flog valuable ceramics given to the people of Croydon in perpetuity.
    Mike Fisher and friends hope to stave off the inevitable long enough to get themselves re-elected. And this being Croydon, there’s every chance their nasty little scheme will succeed.
    As Del Boy Trotter used to say: “He who dares wins, Rodney.”
    And will the opposition serve an injunction in a bid to halt the sale? Probably not, but they will talk about it – at great length.
    So who are the biggest plonkers: the Tories for their spiv-boy tactics; Labour for letting them away with it: or the electorate for voting for the same old, same old and expecting something different?

  3. What is the point of going to the expense of having a consultation if the Council is going to ignore the outcome?

    Surely if selling the collection was so good for the town then the Conservatives would have got their supporters to write-in in support for the proposal. The fact that only one person (or organisation) did so means that even the Conservative’s supporters do not think the proposal is any good.

    The problem is that the Council operates on a Cabinet system which gives lots of power to a few well-chosen councillors, who most voters in Croydon have not voted for. This means that they can bulldoze through a proposal, such as this, regardless of the opposition. The system also ensures that the opposition group have virtually no powers. The Cabinet system therefore creates adversarial politics that results in both sides shouting at each other.

    I think that it would be better for the town if the Council were to return to a committee system. That would result in it being a more consensus style of politics, which would mean that more would get done for the town rather than simple point scoring against each other.

    Unfortunately the Labour group is hardly likely to advocate a return to the committee system because it was the Labour Government that forced councils to adopt the system in 2000.

    • mraemiller says:

      “What is the point of going to the expense of having a consultation if the Council is going to ignore the outcome?”

      They are trying to not get caught out under the legal principle of “Wednesbury Reasonableness”. In 1932 the Government passed the “Sunday Entertainments Acts” – this allowed for the opening of Cinemas on a Sunday. However, the local authority in Wednesbury were not up for Sunday Cinema so the authoriy inserted a clause into the cinema Licence that “no children under the age of fifteen years shall be admitted to any entertainments whether accompanied by adult or not”… in an attempt to allow the Cinema to open but only in such a way as to be painfully uncommercial. The Cinema chain took them to court and won.

      This established what is known as the principle of Wednesbury Reasonableness :

      LORD GREENE : “The court is entitled to investigate the action of the local authority with a view to seeing whether they have taken into account matters which they ought not to take into account, or, conversely, have refused to take into account or neglected to take into account matters which they ought to take into account.

      Once that question is answered in favour of the local authority, it may be still possible to say that, although the local authority have kept within the four corners of the matters which they ought to consider, they have nevertheless come to aconclusion so unreasonable that no reasonable authority could ever have come to it. In such a case, again, I think the court can interfere.

      The power of the court to interfere in each case is not as an appellate authority to override a decision of the local authority, but as a judicial authority which is concerned, and concerned only, to see whether the local authority have contravened the law by acting in excess of the powers which Parliament has confided in them.

      To have the right to intervene, the court would have to form the conclusion that:

      the corporation, in making that decision, took into account factors that ought not to have been taken into account, or
      the corporation failed to take account factors that ought to have been taken into account, or
      the decision was so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would ever consider imposing it.

      If an authority is really being mental you can take it to court and ask for a Judicial Review and if the consultation procedures have not been followed properly you may win. You can also appeal decisions to the Local Government Ombudsman for ignoring the proles who dont have the money for expensive Judicial Reviews.

      In short – it’s a massive bum covering exercise.

  4. To a certain extent my question was rhetorical. Yes, as you say, they are covering themselves for when there is a Judicial Review. However, what I am more interested in is what is best for Croydon, especially in the longer term.

    The proposal is merely a short-term expedient to get over a funding crises created by themselves.

    Croydon Council has become over reliant on funding from the Government (which of course is ourselves the taxpayer) and when that funding was reduced since they have not built-up any reserves they are now having to sell the family silver (or rather our crockery) in order to balance the books.

    Of course the financial situation is worse than that because the Council and Government (both Labour and the Coalition) borrowed money during the good times. But they cannot keep their spending commitments now we are in the bad times.

    Even with the current cuts the public debt (both Governmental and local council) is increasing. So there will have to be more public sector cuts in the future.

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