Council’s cultural vandalism leaves borough short-changed


Mike Fisher pictured earlier today? "'Ere mate, wanna buy some used crockery? One not-so-careful owner...? Or I could do you a pay-day loan deal if you prefer..."

“‘Ere mate, wanna buy some used crockery? One not-so-careful owner…? Or I could do you a pay-day loan deal if you prefer… Verrry reasonable rates”

That’s how much Croydon Council raised from the auction in Hong Kong this morning of 24 pieces of the borough’s priceless Riesco Collection of Chinese porcelain.

Unfortunately for the likes of florid-faced Mike Fisher and his cronies Dudley Mead and Tim Pollard who cooked up a scheme worthy of pay-day loan sharks, to flog off the borough’s cultural assets, the 102.4million figure is in Hong Kong dollars.

In pounds sterling, the sale realised £8.1million at today’s exchange rate.

After auctioneers Christie’s take their costs and commissions – at least 15 per cent – that will leave barely half of the £13 million estimate that Fisher and his mates greedily thought they were going to get from their pawn shop financing deal.

So what we have now is a bad scheme – unlawful, according to the council’s own lawyers – which has seen Croydon kicked out of the Museums Association for breaking its code of ethics, leaving the borough’s galleries and collections unable to access grant funding or loan items from other museums, and all done for only half the dosh than the wide boys in charge of Croydon’s Conservative-run council promised it would deliver.

Sounds very much like Fisher and his chums have lost their shirts by backing a three-legged horse at Hong Kong’s Happy Valley racetrack.

The Ming dynasty Moon flask from the Riesco Collection, sold to the highest bidder at £2.2m

The Ming dynasty Moon flask from the Riesco Collection, sold to the highest bidder at £2.2m

“It’s awful, just awful,” was the reaction today of Timothy Godfrey, the Labour spokesman on culture on the council.

Godfrey clearly does not believe that the promise by the Conservatives to use the money raised to refurbish the Fairfield Halls will be fulfilled. “The Tories have broken election promises twice to refurbish Fairfield. They said that this sale would pay for it. It won’t.

“This sale has destroyed the trust that Raymond Riesco put in Croydon Council. The clear message is that no one can trust Croydon Tories with money, valuable possessions or culture. May 22 can’t come soon enough,” Godfrey said, referring to election day now less than six months away.

The item from the collection which raised the most money in the sale this morning was a Ming dynasty Moon flask, which went for £2.2 million.

The council’s asset-stripping exercise failed even to sell all of the items. Seven of the 24 items failed to achieve the reserve price placed on them by the auction house, and Christie’s is understood to be negotiating private deals with interested under-bidders.

The Riesco Collection was a gift to Croydon from local businessman Raymond Riesco half a century ago, on condition that the collection he had spent his lifetime curating should not be broken up, nor should it leave this country.

The council’s own legal advice to Fisher & Co was that to sell the items would break Croydon’s own policy on disposals, and that such a decision needed to be taken before a meeting of the full council. This was never done.

Charlotte Davies, the chair of the South Croydon Community Association, led a thwarted effort by residents to challenge the council in the courts. Today, she was more convinced than ever that the council had squandered some of the borough’s heritage. “So that’s £14 million-worth of Croydon assets sold to net £7 million – was it worth it?” Davies said.

“Surely it would be better to run Fairfield Halls and the arts in a professional manner? The council and the Fairfield Halls need to engage with the community, they need to structure pricing so that the building is busy and has some buzz, and they need to do some basic and effective marketing and communication – which includes checking their own mailing lists and taking off old names.”

Davies cited the example of her own mother who received a letter this week from the Fairfield Halls. Trouble is, Davies’s mother died 12 years ago.

“Without a management plan to improve the Fairfield Halls, I cannot see how they can make good and effective use of the funds,” Davies said.

Inside Croydon asked Croydon Council whether it is satisfied with the proceeds from the sale. At the time of publication, there had been no answer.

“It’s a tragedy that the sale went ahead,” was the view of Maurice Davies, the head of policy at the Museums Association. “The fault is Croydon Council’s… their decision-making appears to have been flawed and there was a good chance of judicial review.

“Is raising half what was hoped for a good or bad thing? The first reaction might be mild glee that Croydon bureaucrats and politicians will be seen as incompetent. But of course it’s not good news. If you’re going to asset strip, however unethically, you’d better get the best price for the public,” Maurice Davies said.

Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group on Croydon Council, was available to air his views of the Riesco auction. “Not only has this incompetent Tory council sold off the treasured family crockery, but it has let it go at a bargain basement price,” Newman said.

“The money raised doesn’t even go anywhere near filling the financial black hole needed to repair the Fairfield Halls. So this scandal has left us without the borough’s treasured Riesco Collection and with a Fairfield Halls in a state of disrepair. Croydon Tories’ act of cultural vandalism is now complete.”

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13 Responses to Council’s cultural vandalism leaves borough short-changed

  1. mraemiller says:

    Hull – City of Culture.

    Croydon – City of Vultures.

  2. Ken Towl says:

    Thanks very much for the tickets to the 12 Dates of Christmas.

    It was an impressive performance, a tour-de-force. I’m sure you will enjoy it. It’s great to see theatre like this and that, despite the council’s best efforts, the arts are not dead in Croydon.

  3. davidcallam says:

    Just watch this bunch of hooligans gather a respectable tally of votes and seats in next year’s council elections.

    They shouldn’t be allowed to run a car boot stall, but the people of Croydon don’t trust Labour either, despite Tony Newman’s crocodile tears.

    Like it or lump it, we’re stuck with two sets of second-rate politicians until we find a better way of organising local government.

  4. davidcallam says:

    I watched the BBC coverage of the sale on the regional news. It included a vox pop. Of the interviews broadcast, nobody knew we owned the porcelain and nobody seemed bothered about spending the money on the Fairfield.

    • Vox pops are the lowest form of broadcast journalism – fill up two minutes of airtime in a report lasting no more than six minutes by asking a selection of people for their opinions on a subject they know nothing about.

      Vacuous and lazy, and tells us nothing about this or other stories.

      The Riesco Collection has been on display in Croydon for half a century in the care of Croydon Council. If the people of Croydon haven’t been informed of that, there is only one body responsible for that failure to promote and publicise.

      • mraemiller says:

        Another conclusion if no one knows about the Riesco Collectionmight be that there hasn’t been a proper public consultation.

        More disturbingly … it has emerged (thanks to the asidouous FOI requests of the Croydon Natural History and Scientific Society) that not only has the collection been partially flogged three times now (reducing it from approx 630 items in the 60s down to 206 today) but 39 items have clearly been stolen at a time the Council are unable to identify even vaguely. A further 89 items are classed as simply “missing”?

        How do you just lose 89 items of porcelain? Where are they …? Down the back of the sofa?

        This suggests that either under this adminstration or a previous one there has been serious criminal activity going on. Not just a misappropriation of public assets?

  5. davidcallam says:

    Does this all strike you as a touch elitist? Apparently you know what’s good for the people of Croydon, better than they do.

    I regard the council’s actions as cultural vandalism, but I accept I”m in a small minority. And I would be very careful about dismissing people’s opinions as ‘the lowest form of journalism’ broadcast or otherwise.

    Sadly, on this occasion Fisher and his Philistines seem to have judged the public mood far better than those if us who wanted to keep the Riesco collection together.

    • It is not dismissing the views of people, but criticising the journalism employed. Vox pops on BBC local news are used to fill air time and to keep up the number of “ordinary faces” seen on our screens. It is not done to get to the heart of a story.

      Asking the ill-informed and uninformed for their views on something that they nothing about is not broadcast journalism; it is vacuous padding.

      Fisher and his spivs used the same arguments when they privatised the library service, axed the grant to the Warehouse Theatre and shut the David Lean Cinema: no one cares, it’s not mainstream, it doesn’t matter, it’s elitist. It is an interesting attempt to deny education, learning and culture from the less privileged.

      Meanwhile, Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the council, continues to be chairman of the board of the Fairfield Halls, which is about to get a public subsidy of £33 million from a local authority that says in all other respects that it cannot afford arts and culture. Make up your own mind how self-serving this council’s leadership has been, in this and all other respects.

    • mraemiller says:

      OK, let’s pre-suppose you’re right and flogging this stuff to spend the money on something else is a good idea… well …

      Even if one was to accept that plundering art collections to finance performing art was a good idea, there should surely be a structured National Policy for this so that we could select the art that least people wanted and would make the best return and spread the losses from national collections fairly round the country. Instead what we’ve got is – “Oh, look, Croydon’s got a load of expensive China. Lets flog it and then Central Government doesn’t have to find as much money to give them”.

      Flogging stuff out of Museums was never in any Manifesto, We were told at the time of the AV Referendum that the great thing about FPTP is that Governments dont just make up policy on the hoof but have to stick to their Manifestos.

      Yet time and time and time again we get Tory MakeItUpAsWeGoAlong policy – exactly what this is. It is Salami tactics. Lets flog off a little bit at a time in the places that put up least resistence till it becomes national policy. You can bet other authorities will we watching what Croydon has done and eyeing the local Museums and Galleries very beadily.

  6. davidcallam says:

    Raising money to spend on the Fairfield is a daft thing to do unless you believe arts centres are supposed to lose money.

    So how is it self-serving to prop up this ageing pile whose use-by date has passed?

    Croydon needs a performance space that will attract popular artists, who in turn will attract large enough audiences to make the place pay for itself.

    That performance space is no longer the Fairfield and no amount of tarting up will make it so. We need somewhere much more flexible than can accommodate exhibitions and conferences as well as large-scale performances.

    We are far too sentimental about buildings that no longer fulfil the needs of the market: we could have a library service to be proud of if we were ready to reduce the number of buildings we use, from the present 13 to a more cost-effective four or five. Instead of exploring the possibilities we form small but vociferous placard-waving protest groups.

    AmDram could be presented in the Braithwaite Hall at the Clocktower with arthouse cinema in the David Lean Cinema across the hall. Workshop theatre could use the Braithwaite too: why does the Warehouse need its own building?

    Croydon is about to undergo a massive remodelling of its town centre: are you going to bang on about that ad nausiam too?

    • You don’t need to benefit personally or directly to be self-serving. You may abuse a position of authority, and public cash, to benefit your interests.

      It needs noting that the Fairfield, or Favoured, Halls has received considerable assistance, millions a year, from Croydon Council at a time when no resources have been made available to other arts in the borough.

      Dudley Mead is the deputy leader of the council. He is also the chairman of the board at the Fairfield Halls, and together with his wife, another council cabinet member, Councillor Margaret Mead, is involved with several other related groups.

      We detailed this manifest conflicts of interest here:

      Thus, when this council embarks on an unlawful practice of robbing Peter to pay Paul, it is Favoured Halls which benefits.

      Good arts policy requires public subsidy, in the expectation that the provision will deliver other benefits as a result of such cultural investment.

      And good councils do not behave unlawfully.

    • mraemiller says:

      “arts centres are supposed to lose money”

      I hate to break it to you but all arts centres lose money.

      For all the disputes about how the Fairfield is funded or whether it should be replaced with something better we are still very lucky, if you ask me, to have an Arts Centre of any kind …given the number that have been closed in other places about the country.

      For example Taunton’s Brewhouse Theatre and Arts Centre went bust yet again earlier this year and has been allowed to close and into administration ahead of probably becoming a new Sainsburys or Tesco.

      The idea that a place like Croydon can sustain a venue of the size of the Fairfield that would ever break even on ticket sales alone is fantasy. Even the O2 wouldn’t exist if it hadn’t been paid for out of public money to begin with.

  7. Pingback: Croydon Borough Council’s Riesco Collection: selling cultural heritage to offset austerity | (un)free archaeology

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