Thursday, October 26, 2006

From The (He)art

Over the past few weeks it has come to public attention that Southampton's magnificent art collection of over 3,500 works, is valued at more than £130m. Many, including myself, were astounded to discover that the collection is uninsured against damage or theft. Labour cancelled the insurance policy 12 years ago. Under the Lib Dems, the art collection has remained uninsured. Even more astounding is the fact that the Lib Dem Leisure and Tourism boss, Steve Sollitt didn't know anything about it.

When the matter was sensationally raised in the pages of the Daily Echo last week, there was barely a twitter from Labour or the Lib Dems. I was very disappointed with their lazy, disinterested responses.

Given the enormous value of the collection, I am determined to keeping pressing the point. I have sought some advice on how much the premium would be to insure our collection. Quotations range from £50,000 a year (for basic cover) to £100,000 a year for full cover against accidental damage and theft.

The value and location of the city's art collection is now in the public domain. I think this is a good thing. It is much better than keeping the matter secret, and the art hidden away in a dusty vault. However now that it is public knowledge it is even more important that we address the matter.

We urgently need a new valuation for the city art collection. The last one was done 5 years ago. It could be that it has risen significantly in value since then. We need an independent assessment of the risk to the collection and our security measures and procedures. We also need to get the collection insured. The money is there. We are sat on £130m of art after all! We could sell one or two paintings and insure the remaining thousands. I would imagine there are a number of paintings that don't fit with the rest of the collection.

I am told that not all art collections are insured and so Southampton is not unique. However I reminded that the Queen didn't have her art collection insured and many valuable items were destroyed in the fire at Windsor Castle.

Looking forward we need a proper strategy for our art collection. The London galleries get a return on their asset. We should be talking to them about how we can generate income through loaning out works to private collectors, company headquarters and the like. Even a 1% return on our asset would generate £1.3m a year. This is the equivalent of a 2% reduction in the Council Tax for the whole city.

Finally we should be displaying far more of the art locally for the benefit and enjoyment of local people.

The Lib-Lab Council needs to pull its finger out and start taking more of an interest. Even if they aren't interested in art they should at least take an interest in what is after all public money.

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