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Debt-ridden councils' multi million pound art hoarding

Labour-run Kirklees Council spends over £34 million on interest payments on its £471.5 million debt mountain. That bill gobbles up nearly a quarter of its Council Tax revenue. The council is proposing to increase the Council Tax by 1.7% - it says the rise is "inevitable."

Yet a Freedom of Information request reveals that the council owns 3,000 works of art with an insurance value of £25 million - likely to be conservative. The market value is probably much higher. Only 450 works are on display, 15% of the total.

Manchester City Council is imposing a Council tax rise of 3.7% on its hard pressed residents. It spends £47 million a year on interest payments on its £503 million of debt.  At the same time it has an art collection of 45,669 objects including 13,075 items of Fine Art (paintings, sculpture, and works on paper), 10,938 items of Decorative Art (ceramics, metals, glass, items of social/cultural history and furniture) and 21,656 items of costume. The Collection as a whole is valued at £274 million for insurance purposes. They wouldn't tell me how much of this was on display at any given time but it is clearly a tiny minority. Perhaps 1% or 2% of the paintings can be seen at the Manchester Art Gallery. A similar ratio of the costumes at Platt Hall.

Exeter City Council owns 7,044 works of art. Just 122 are on display at any time. So over 98% of the items are in storage.The council is increasing Council Tax by 4%.

Lewisham Council has 676 items of "art heritage assets." They tell me that "none of the items are on display." They have no idea how much they are worth as "the archives have not been valued for insurance purposes." This Council is increasing Council Tax by 1.75%

Remember that councils like Kirklees, Manchester, Leeds and Southampton pay millions for the cost of insurance, maintenance and storage for the vast art collections they keep hidden away.  There can be debate about what should be sold or leased. Should it be items with no local connection? Should it be lower value works that are less likely to ever be displayed? There can also be debate about the proceeds. Should it all go on reducing debt? Or should some of it be spent opening new galleries to allow more of the remaining collection to be put on display?

What is indefensible is the status quo. It is also clearly dishonest for these councils to pretend they have "no alternative" to increasing Council Tax. They could scale back on their art hoarding instead. It is their choice.


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