Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Art Of Total Incompetence

I received another interesting item of correspondence today.

I recently posted on my blog that the City Council has an art collection worth 135,000,000.00 pounds.

This came to light after I asked a question of Lib Dem Councillor and Southampton City Council leisure boss, Steve Sollitt, at the last Full Council meeting. The subject of Southampton's art collection has been thrust into the limelight following Cllr Sollitt's controversial decision to buy a 250,000.00 pound painting, Red Movement, criticised by some as looking like a 1970s quilt cover.

I asked a supplementary question of Cllr Sollitt at the Council meeting. I asked how much the art collection was insured for. He said that he didn't know the answer but he would let me know as soon as he had found out.

Well I received the answer today. The answer is that it is not insured!

Here is what the letter said:

The whole Art collection was insured at the Authority's expense up until 1994, when budgetary pressures forced a review of financial priorities.

It was concluded after weighing risks against existing security and risk management measures that the "all risks" insurance premium was not a major priority compared to other key services provided by the Art Gallery. The Permanent Collection ceased to be insured against any risk, and therefore there is no current insurance evaluation.

The letter went on to say:

Consideration during budget preparations in recent years has been given to whether this issue should be raised as an upwards pressure, but ultimately other priorities have been allocated resources given the assessment of risk.

So there we have it, a 135m pound art collection which is uninsured!

A 135m pound perishable asset belonging to the City which if destroyed, say in a fire, would leave us with nothing to show for it.

Frankly, if we can't afford to insure such a valuable asset, should we really be looking after it on behalf of the city.

Another thing which bewilders me is that we supposedly can't afford to insure our art but the Lib Dems have just agreed to spend an extra 250,000.00 pounds on additional design costs for a new art centre in Guild Hall Square (on the old Tyrell and Green site). Just to be clear, the 250,000.00 pounds isn't what the Council is paying for the project. This is simply the latest over spend!!!

Also I am very sceptical about the City's "risk management measures". My next question will be about what exactly these are. However I do know that security staff have concerns about how secure the Civic Centre is. I understand that in the past, homeless people have broken into the building in order to sleep in there for the night. It doesn't sound that secure to me.

I wonder if we are only just beginning to scratch the surface of Lib Dem incompetence. What will we discover next!?

8 comments:

Matt Dean said...

I shall write a considered reply to this after I have got over the shock of Councillor moulton's post.

Matt Dean said...

As a member of the public, I find it unbelievable than a small unitary authority has a portfolio of art worth £130million and that given its potentially perishable nature, that it is uninsured.
Given the assumption that the facts you write are correct, I wonder if
(a) Mr Sollitt is happy to endorse the previous administrations decision not to insure the collection.
(b) There is any legal requirement to insure the collection? Many of the works would have been bequests or purchased with grant aid. I wonder if there are insuring covenants on any works?
(c) Is the council really the best body to run the art gallery/ manage the art collection given the Councillor’s self-acknowledged complete lack of expertise, the recent council overspends in this area and the fact they don’t even insure the works in their custody?

Matt Dean said...

As a member of the public, I find it unbelievable than a small unitary authority has a portfolio of art worth £130million and that given its potentially perishable nature, that it is uninsured.
Given the assumption that the facts you write are correct, I wonder if
(a) Mr Sollitt is happy to endorse the previous administrations decision not to insure the collection.
(b) There is any legal requirement to insure the collection? Many of the works would have been bequests or purchased with grant aid. I wonder if there are insuring covenants on any works?
(c) Is the council really the best body to run the art gallery/ manage the art collection given the Councillor’s self-acknowledged complete lack of expertise, the recent council overspends in this area and the fact they don’t even insure the works in their custody?

Jeremy Moulton said...

Very quickly Matt, on your first point. It was Labour that chose to scrap the insurance. I believe it must have been Cllr Arnold who was leader of the Council at the time. However don't forget that this is now the 4th year of a Lib Dem admninistration. Surely it donesn't take 4 years to get to grips with these things?

On the legal requirement point, I would imagine yes is the answer. I think about half the collection has been gifted and is held under some sort of trust. I need to check this. However from the sounds of things I would have thought there would be some sort of obligation on the Council to maintain a duty of care.

Alexander Barahona said...

I'm not an art critique, and personally I find modern art at best boring or at worst repulsive. That said, I recognise that others do appreciate such art so don't wish to discuss the merits of it being bought with tax payers money.

What does bother me somewhat is the idiocy of spending so much on ANYTHING that will subsqently remain uninsured. I would assume that those responsible fot the purchase have managed to insure their private assets well enough, so why is it acceptable to take such a cavalier attitude with tax payers money?

Surely if one cannot afford to insure such a valuable work of art one should realise that maybe the best thing to do is not buy it in the first place?

Jeremy Moulton said...

Alex

I agree. Although it isn't council tax payers money, much of the money will altimately come from the public purse.

The collection does receive works of art from private benefactors.

Nevertheless regardless of where the money comes from it is an asset for the City of Southampton and should be looked after.

Jeremy

UK Daily Pundit said...

Am I living on a different planet or what? Council tax payers money and money from the public purse is surely one and the same thing - OUR MONEY!

Jeremy Moulton said...

Well its all our money of course! No arguing there.

The City Council's most recent art purchase was funded by an art grant. It wasn't paid for with Council Tax. That grant could only be spent on art.