Sekhemka Statue – Northampton You Couldn’t Make It Up (Actually they are) – Part 2
The debate over whether the Conservative Borough Council administration should sell the Sekhemka Statue has last week not only reached the National newspapers but locally descended into another farce alongside that of the Grosvenor Centre, Environment Services and Parish Council Review.
When three weeks ago the Conservatives announced that they had decided to sell the Statue I’m sure Cllr Brandon Eldred (Conservative) didn’t think that it would create as much opposition as it has.
What perhaps raised the ire in many was the excuse for the sale which Cllr Eldred is reported to have said is because “they need the money” and anyway “it is not from Northampton so has no relevance to the town”, which of course raise the question that if the Sekhemka Statue is a part of the Egyptian collection held by the Council’s museum service then presumably it is all available for disposal?
What is even more of a concern is that the Borough Council Museum services holds a large number of items and exhibits that didn’t originate in Northampton so fears that they will also be put up for sale may well be justified.
The problem is that the Conservative administration haven’t thought the sale through and are now desperately trying to regain control of the issue through spin, smoke and mirrors which is all too evident from the way it has been managed in the past week.
On Monday (10th September) in response to questions from the Labour Opposition Councillors and criticism from members of the public at the Borough Council Full Council meeting the Leader of the Council made two very telling statements,
The first was that if the Cabinet on Wednesday 12th September decided to sell the Sekhemka Statue all of the funding would go towards the restoration of Delapre Abbey which he claimed he had personally “made the decision that Delapre Abbey is our number one Heritage Project”, and secondly that “no decision would be taken before a full consultation had taken place”.
They were telling statements for two reasons, firstly because no-one believed that the decision hadn’t already been made and because the decision to make Delapre Abbey the number one Heritage Project was taken last July when we were interviewing candidates who now make up the Delapre Abbey Trust Board.
Secondly of course was that if a full consultation was going to be carried out before a decision was going to be taken whether to sell the Sekhemka Statue then why was it on the agenda for a decision to be taken on Wednesday?
The following day Tuesday 11th September was a day when Labour made it clear that they wanted a clear, open and honest consultation and that the decision planned to be taken by the Conservative Cabinet on Wednesday should be deferred until a full consultation not only with the museums, arts and people of Northampton interested in heritage had been carried out but perhaps even more importantly to find out if they were actually entitled to sell it.
All of the calls were ignored and the Conservative Cabinet on Wednesday 12th September took the following decision,
Agrees to sell the council’s Egyptian statue, Sekhemka, on condition that:
a) The disposal achieves a price in line with the independent sale valuation that has been obtained.
b) The disposal is undertaken in accordance with relevant legal provisions and the council’s financial regulations.
c) Industry good practice is observed in achieving disposal.
A decision that was taken in the face of objections by heritage, arts and museums organisations and in fact in a meeting where Cllr Eldred clearly said that,
“We have consulted with all of the organisations concerned” – a statement which was according to those organisations present one of which has been involved in the museums for over 60 years actually true? and that “The proposed sale of the statue has been going on for over two years”, another statement that was not exactly accurate.
What was under discussion was the need to find out who actually owned the Statue, what its true value was and for the Borough Council what the insurance premium would be.
It was at this point that the Leader of the Council Cllr David Mackintosh announced that “there would be a full consultation on how the money from the sale was spent including not only Delapre Abbey but other areas of arts and heritage”.
In effect between Monday and Wednesday last week Delapre Abbey as the number one and only priority policy had been abandoned.
The Labour Party within 30 minutes of the decision being taken ‘called the decision in’, effectively challenging the validity and basis on which the decision was taken which will now be heard by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the 24th September at 6 o’clock, more of which later.
Subsequent statements from the Conservative administration appear to demonstrate very clearly why the decision taken by the Conservatives is totally unreliable and that the whole policy around the museums, arts, heritage and Delapre Abbey is inconsistent.
No better example was that given on Thursday morning (13th September) when on BBC Northampton in defending the decision Cllr Brandon Eldred said that the sale of the statue was essential to deliver “the Conservatives long-term plans for the museums and arts in Northampton”.
A strange statement and one that you’d have thought he and the Leader of the Council would have mentioned at the previous night’s Cabinet.
It is a policy that no-one including officers of the Borough Council appear to know nothing about – so was it as many of us suspect a case of policy being made up on the spot as a result of the pressure of being interviewed by a very experienced BBC reporter and what happened to and where did the Delapre Abbey commitment on Monday night enter into the long-term museums and arts policy?
It certainly caused some consternation amongst people at the Guildhall and the Conservative spin machine almost went into orbit as they tried to regain control through the means scaremongering tactics in which the Leader of the Council reported in the Chronicle and Echo said that it was essential to sell the stayer to avoid cuts to museums and arts.
The problem many of us have with his statement is that if true why didn’t he mention it at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday or Full Council meeting on Monday, and if true then it must always have been a part of the Conservative Plans and therefore the decision to sell the statue must have been made well before last week?
Of course the other problem with the Cllr Mackintosh assertion that a failure to sell the statue would lead to cuts to museums and arts is not accurate because of rules about what the proceeds of ‘asset’ sales can be spent on and more importantly what it can’t be spent on such as running and staffing costs, commonly known as ‘revenue’ costs.
So let’s be very clear about it.
The sale or otherwise of the Sekhemka Statue has absolutely no bearing on any cuts in Museums and Arts across Northampton, any such cuts will be solely down to the choices and decisions taken by the Conservative Borough Councillors.
Which brings me back to the Labour Call In that is going to be held in the Guildhall on Monday 24th September starting at 6pm at which I alongside Cllr Terry Wire the Leader of the Borough Labour Group will present our reasons for questioning the reliability and validity of the decision taken to sell the Sekhemka Statue.
The ‘Call In’ also provides is a greater opportunity for those who are both For or Against the statues sale to provide evidence and their point of view to a committee made up of Councillors from all parties, and who on hearing all of the submissions and arguments make recommendations to the Cabinet.
I’m sure those who have a real interest in this issue will take the opportunity to have their voices listened to.
To register to speak and be heard people need to register to speak by contacting the Northampton Borough Council Democratic Services on 01604 837722 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Northampton Labour recognise that the sale of any assets such as the Sekhemka Statue is one that always raises issues but what is essential is that the people of Northampton should be consulted before and not after the decision is taken, and that their views should be taken into account.
Unfortunately this appears to be another example of the Borough Council Conservatives arrogantly believing that they can do whatever they want irrespective of what the people of Northampton think.
I started off by saying ‘You couldn’t make it up’; clearly the inconsistency in the policy appears to indicate that the Borough Conservatives are ‘making it up’ as they go.
How soon will it be that we see other decisions and expenditure of tax payers’ money revealed as having taken place on pet projects or because of political dogma that hasn’t been fully and openly agreed and approved?