This is how “consultation” operates in Tory-run Croydon Council.
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.
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.”
- If you want to add your name to the protest against the sale of the Riesco Collection, click here to sign the online petition, and share the link with your friends and colleagues
- Riesco family opposes “unethical” china collection sale
- Priceless: Nailing the council’s lies over Riesco sale
- Council’s Mr & Mrs act that defies proper declarations
- Is Croydon on the brink with £1 billion borough debt?
- Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source that is actually based in the heart of the borough – 267,670 page views Nov 2012-Apr 2013
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