Should Northampton Borough Council “Sell Family Silver”?
The issue of what should be done with the Egyptian statue that was on display in Northampton’s Museum until just over 18 months ago has raised some interesting issues from the start of it being recognised as an important item.
Perhaps we should look at the start of this issue,
The statue was recognised by a member of the public as it was displayed in the museum as what could be described as a ‘supporting exhibit’ to another item and was then taken up by Jean Hawkins the former Borough Councillor in her capacity as Heritage Champion for Northampton.
The first reaction of course was panic that such a valuable article was on display in an ordinary display cabinet, followed by real concerns about who owned it and was it insured.
As is common in public bodies who find themselves dealing with something different the decision was taken to remove it to a secure stowage while a decision on its future was sought.
What it also raised was the question of what else of value was in the care of Northampton Borough Council and did anyone really know what there was?
Interestingly no-one had the answer so it was right to initiate a full review and valuation of what is in effect the assets of the people of Northampton, a review that as it has progressed and has caused real concerns about the cost of the insurance premiums the Borough Council could face in the future.
Perhaps most importantly was to find out who owned the Egyptian statue and extensive investigations were implemented which certainly at the time when I became leader of the council in May 2011 was uncertain.
The first indications were that it had been ‘loaned’ to Northampton by the Northamptonshire family and as such should be returned to them or ask for permission to sell it at auction.
The next issue of course was whether Northampton Borough Council should if it was legally allowed, be selling off the family silver or retain it on behalf of the people of Northampton who ultimately are the rightful owners and who councillors are no more than the custodians.
My view at the time was that if it was to be sold off the proceeds should go towards the restoration of Delapre Abbey and used to demonstrate the commitment of the Borough Council to the project to the National Heritage from who we would be asking for a considerable donation.
Only time will tell whether a decision to sell the statue and for that matter any of the other valuable items is made, but what is important is that any proceeds need to be spent on long-term heritage projects which will benefit the whole of Northampton and not wasted on pet political projects.
The decision will also, sadly have to be made on the basis of whether or not the Borough Council tax payers can afford the insurance premiums if it/they are retained and the cost of being able to afford to provide the secure display facility it/they would need in the museum.
What is really disappointing is the statement from Cllr Eldred the Conservative Cabinet Member that “We have decided to see if we can make some money”, a sad indictment of the administration’s approach to heritage and public assets, or a real case of wanting to know the monetary value of things without any consideration of their public or cultural worth?
Or is it simply seen as ‘another fat cheque’?