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Poll: Should cost-cutting St Edmundsbury Borough Council sell its £7.3million haul of heritage assets?

PUBLISHED: 13:45 06 August 2014

St Edmundsbury Borough Council is facing renewed calls to consider selling at least part of its £7.3million “family silver” as it faces up to yet more budget cuts.

The council’s collection of fine art, clocks and civic regalia adds up to the seven-figure sum, according to its recently published annual accounts.

St Edmundsbury has to save £1.5m this year and has launched a public consultation over savings ideas, which includes potentially shutting the bus station information centre in Bury St Edmunds.

However, selling even part of St Edmundsbury’s extensive collection was not listed as an option.

The council says that some of the collection cannot be sold on, that certain profits cannot be spent on running services and that “selling off the family silver doesn’t solve anything”.

Bury Society chairman Karen Hurden also said there would be “outcry” should some of the collection, which has been accrued over hundreds of years, be flogged for financial gain.

“It goes without saying how valuable they are for the borough,” she added.

“They are the heritage of the town – once they’re gone, they’re gone. The Bury Society sees no good reason for selling them.

“I think it would be a grave shame if they were sold off for financial reasons – in fact, I think there would be an outcry.”

Mrs Hurden added she did wish more of the council’s assets were on display, with the majority of them being kept in storage

Independent borough councillor David Nettleton said: “If people say we don’t mind if basic services are cut if we keep the pictures, that’s fine.

“But why don’t we ask the people? We’re looking for financial savings, you have to work out the value of keeping these things rather than sending them off somewhere to put them on display.”

Around 90% of the collection’s value comes from the Gershom Parkington Collection and the Cullum Collection.

The Gershom Parkington Collection – of which around 30% is displayed at any one time – is an internationally recognised assortment of clocks and watches given to the borough by John Gershom-Parkington, who was killed during the Second World War.

Among its other assets is a single painting by James Tissot, worth £1.8m.

Sarah Stamp, the council’s cabinet member for heritage, said: “It is important to remember that these items – whether a valuable painting, piece of ceremonial silver or simply a stuffed owl or ancient bicycle – are part of our borough’s heritage and we would all be poorer, not just in financial terms, if we got rid of them.

“This isn’t (TV show) Cash in the Attic – we have a duty to our past and our future generations to preserve who we, in St Edmundsbury, are and what we value.

“Selling off the family silver doesn’t solve anything because we need year-on-year savings – not one-off pots of money.”

The borough’s civic regalia – items used in ceremonies such as maces, swords and chains of office – is worth £533,000, while its collection of items worth less than £5,000 adds up to £665,000.

Haverhill borough councillor Maureen Byrne said: “That £1.5m (in savings) is going to affect residents. Instead of communities and residents having to suffer these major cutbacks, if there’s stuff that can be sold, it should be sold.

“We need to have an honest and open debate about it and I’m pretty sure there must be treasures, artefacts, whatever it is, that would help us over a period of having to pull our reins in.”

The council says it does not have enough space to display everything in its collection, but items are rotated at places such as Moyse’s Hall and available to view by appointment.

Selling off the more expensive items could also lead to a fall in visitors to the borough’s museums and the loss of grant money from bodies such as the Arts Council, says St Edmundsbury.

The council is facing a 47% cut in Government funding and has to save £3.4m by 2018.

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