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Southampton City Council bosses plea to Government over plans to sell art
WORKS of art from Southampton’s prestigious £150m collection could be sold to fund threatened frontline services.
The Daily Echo can reveal that city council bosses have written to the Government asking ministers to relax rules which they say currently forbid them from selling items from the 4,000-piece collection.
It is the first time that the city’s Labour leaders have made a direct bid to sell some of Southampton’s world-renowned art collection. If their bid is successful, it could give the green light to the sale of valuable works of art to fund improvements in the city’s Cultural Quarter, such as the new arts complex.
That would mean vital funding would be freed up to prevent the axe falling on jobs and services at the cash-strapped authority.
The council’s previous Conservative administration had tried and failed to sell items to fund city services, and under previous Labour leader Richard Williams civic chiefs had said they were legally unable to sell artwork.
But current leader Simon Letts has now written to the Government alongside Croydon Council asking them to relax rules which would result in sanctions if they were to attempt to sell works at the moment.
Arts Council England’s museum accreditation scheme and Museum Association guidelines limit the use of money raised by selling publically-owned art to reinvesting it back into the collection the art work was sold from.
When councils have tried to sell art to balance the books, it has resulted in them losing accreditation and having funding options restricted.
Bury Council was expelled from the official museums body in 2006 for selling an L S Lowry painting to fund threatened frontline services.
The decision led to the council having severely restricted funding options for cultural improvements, and made it ineligible to apply for certain grants.
The Daily Echo has long argued for sensible use of the council's largely-hidden art collection, under its Show Us The Monet campaign.
In their joint letter, the city council and Croydon have asked Culture Secretary and Basingstoke MP Maria Miller to relax the rules so they can sell items without facing sanctions.
Only items outside Southampton’s core collection would be sold and although council chiefs say they have not identified specific items for sale, it is understood both Auguste Rodin’s Crouching Woman and Sir Alfred Munnings’ After the Race, which were earmarked for an £8m sale by the previous Conservative administration, could be auctioned off.
Money raised through sales would then be put into funding projects such as the arts complex in Above Bar, which the council is spending £6.7m on, or improvements elsewhere in the Cultural Quarter such as SeaCity Museum or the City Art Gallery.
That would mean millions of pounds of funding could then be put back into services such as adult social care and children’s services, which face cutbacks.
Cllr Letts said: “We are asking the Government to give us a bit more flexibility. We’re not going to sell the lot and put the funds into tarmac. If we have got flexibility we can use resources to support the arts complex and the rest of the Cultural Quarter.
“We are not cultural philistines and we do not want to dismantle the collection.”
Conservative opposition leader Royston Smith said: “You wouldn’t choose between putting food on the table at home and keeping a new car on the drive. You would sell your car – you would use your assets to keep yourself and your family healthy.
“It is therefore perverse to keep items that are potentially valuable hidden away in the city’s vaults when lots of other key services are at risk.”
Stephen Foster, chairman of the Chipperfield Trust advisory committee, which was set up to oversee Southampton’s art collection, said: “I think the council asking for clarification is perfectly reasonable.
“If the Government says flog it all off and use it to pay for social services for a start I will eat my hat, but I don’t think that will happen.”
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