The challenge to the sale of the Sekhemka Statue from the current Lord Northampton a descent of the 2nd Marquis of Northampton who in 1880 donated the statue to the ‘People of Northampton’ is not only a victory for those who opposed the sale but a clear indication that the Borough Council Conservatives have been nothing less than deceitful.
We will undoubtedly now see the Leader and Cabinet Member responsible for the decision trying to spin their way out of having intentionally deceived and misled not only the council Overview and Scrutiny Committee but also the voluntary organisations and public.
After the Conservative Cabinet had taken the decision on the 12th September last year I wrote that the Labour group had real concerns about the way the decision had been taken without consultation with the museums supporters and organisations or having established ownership which is why along with Cllr Terry Wire the Leader of the Labour Group we ‘called in’ the decision.
For the uninitiated the purpose of a ‘call in’ is to ensure that decisions taken by the administration are fair, reasonable, legal and sensible and is a means of ensuring that at the very least whoever is in control of the Council can be held to account.
It is an essential part of the democratic process which is why for the Leader of the Council Cllr David Mackintosh to have said on the Chronicle and Echo website that Labour was threatening and jeopardising the future of the museum service by calling it in was nothing more than him throwing a ‘hissy fit’ at having his decision challenged.
In fact Cllr Mackintosh is so paranoid about having his Conservative administrations performance scrutinised that he has now arbitrarily decided that in future all of the administrations decisions will only be scrutinised by his own party, and to ensure it has made his friend and colleague Cllr Jamie Lane the Chairman of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
A real case of the guards, guarding the guards, or is it how to hide the truth?
At the Cabinet meeting on the 12th September Councillor Brandon Eldred the Conservative Cabinet Member responsible for the Museums service clearly stated that “we have consulted widely with all of the groups who support the museums”.
It was a statement that was absolutely refuted by the Friends of Northampton Museums, the Northampton Arts Collective and the Northamptonshire Egyptian Society who are an organisation concerned with archaeology and heritage.
Councillor Eldred effectively said that the organisations who claimed that they hadn’t been consulted and only knew of the sale when they read about it in the local Chronicle and Echo were not telling the truth.
More telling perhaps was that he was supported by the Leader of the Council who had we are told been fully informed of the consultation process.
Understandably for those of us who were sat alongside them the anger that was expressed by the museum supporters and organisations at being accused of being untruthful was palpable, and even more so when they were denied the opportunity to say so by the Leader of the Council at the meeting.
The ‘call in’ gave the Conservative Leadership an opportunity to admit that they hadn’t consulted and apologise for what was a shameful accusation against people whose only interest was to retain the Sekhemka Statue in Northampton.
Did they take the opportunity?
Of course they didn’t.
What happened at the ‘call in’ was an incredibly incompetent performance by Councillor Eldred who in spite of people from the Museums and Arts organisations attending and saying again that they had not been consulted still insisted that he, the Council officers and the Leader of the Council had not only consulted with all interested groups but had established that they had a right to sell the statue.
Most people would have thought that knowing that in preparing to face questioning from an ‘all party’ Overview and Scrutiny Committee they would have appeared with all of the evidence to support their decision available.
It was interesting that no evidence of the consultation was available?
In fact the only justification the Conservatives had for selling the statue was summed up in the words of Cllr Eldred which had been approved and sanctioned by Cllr Mackintosh was,
“People don’t class this as our family silver. It doesn’t add any heritage to the town at all.”
What an earth made him say such a thing and doesn’t it demonstrate just what their approach, in spite of comments to the contrary by the Leader of the Council, really is?
It is a statement that the heritage organisations and supporters in the room and those who read it here and in the Chronicle and Echo will remember when this administration go looking for support from them and from national arts and heritage organisations.
With the challenge from Lord Northampton what I forecast at the time has sadly come true.
The credibility of Cllr Mackintosh, Cllr Eldred and the Conservative administration in maintaining that they had consulted and established the ownership of the Sekhemka Statue and their right to sell it is in tatters.
It is quite clear, as I stated at the time that the organisations and especially the Friends of Northampton Museums, the Northampton Arts Collective and the Northamptonshire Egyptian Society were telling the truth when they said they hadn’t been consulted and that Cllr Eldred and Cllr Mackintosh weren’t telling the truth.
The latest turn of events over the Borough Council Conservatives decision to ride roughshod over the consultation and accepted protocols in deciding to sell the Sekhemka Statue is one that has moved the issue on from the actual sale to one of a lack of trust in the honesty of the Borough Council administration.
It is a trust that is essential to good partnership working if Northampton’s heritage is to be protected from the Philistines in the Guildhall who appear to know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
It is a trust that Cllr Eldred and Cllr Mackintosh have now destroyed and no amount of “we now want to be friends and consult” can repair.
The battle lines are clear between those who want to see Northampton thrive based on a long and proud tradition of protecting its heritage, and those who only see the short-term gain of investing in their own self-interest.
This is an issue that will be watched by other potential partners who may well be asking themselves if the Borough Council administration are willing to be evasive and misleading over the sale of the Sekhemka Statue can they be trusted over other issues.
It is not only the damage to the reputation of Northampton both Nationally and Internationally that has been caused but also if they are to be believed that the £2m from the sale of the statue was necessary to protect the museums service then draconian cuts will follow.
The trouble now of course is can they be believed?
All of the evidence is that certainly as far as the issue of the Sekhemka Statue is concerned they can’t and where does that leave the heritage and investment in the heritage of Northampton?
What if anything this whole sorry episode has demonstrated is the sheer arrogance of the Borough Council Conservatives and that it is only Labour who are prepared to Listen and put Northampton first.
So congratulations to all of those organisations who stood together and fought against what was clearly an incompetent ill-thought out and disgraceful decision taken by an administration that was only too willing to dismiss opponents as being untruthful and of no consequence.