Works of Art in public collections – philanthropy at a price – Part 2

Works of Art in public collections – philanthropy at a price – Part 2

We recently had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg where our daughter is currently studying Russian as part of a languages course at Birmingham University. Needless to say we had a fascinating time.

One of the highlights for me was the day spent at the Hermitage Museum. The enormity of the Winter Palace and its collection beggar belief; and despite spending five hours there we left feeling that we had barely scratched the surface.

Retrospectively I found myself musing on the insurance implications of such a vast and wide-ranging collection; and one of such incredible quality. Who does their insurance valuation(s)? Do they insure everything, and if so how can they possibly afford the insurance premiums? (Please note that this is not an offer to carry out the work. My feet are sufficiently well-grounded to be aware of my limitations).

Nearer home however, and rather more prosaically, these very same thorny questions appear to have been raised at Bradford where the Council has been accused of underestimating the value of its art collection by millions of pounds: the authority had been insuring its 4,000 item collection for £20 million but a new valuation has found that 195 pieces alone were worth more than £30 million. The council has said it is in “on-going discussion” about the true valuation and insurance cover after auditors flagged it up as a “key concern”.

Opposition parties have now called for some art to be sold to fund services. Glen Miller, leader of the Conservatives, said: “Bradford Council’s debt is £631m, we’re paying interest on that alone of £31m. We don’t need to sell it [artwork] all off but if it’s been purchased with taxpayers’ money we need to look at using revenue from that.”

Jeanette Sunderland, the Liberal Democrat leader, said “times were really difficult in Bradford” and the council needed to look at whether it was getting “best value for money”.

The authority’s leader Dave Green said selling off the artwork would be detrimental to the city’s “cultural and historical legacy”.

One suspects that this is one story that could run and run.