Chairman David Verey reveals how the Art Fund is working to safeguard this unique collection.
You might be wondering why we haven’t launched a fundraising campaign to save the Wedgwood collection, currently under threat of being sold off. The simple answer is because this hasn’t yet been necessary, and indeed we hope the collection won’t need to be sold at all. There is another way forward.
When Waterford Wedgwood – the commercial company – went into administration, a quirk of law meant that the tiny Wedgwood Museum – a charitable trust – was burdened with the full £134 million pension liability of 8,000 Waterford Wedgwood employees, just because five of the museum’s staff had been part of the same pension fund. This pushed the museum into administration too, and in December the High Court ruled that its prized collection was legally available to the Wedgwood Museum Trust’s creditors.
Exterior of the Wedgwood Museum
The main creditor is the Pension Protection Fund, a body funded by both the pensions industry and the government that exists to compensate individual pensioners in the event of a company bankruptcy. It holds a fund of money for this purpose, which thankfully means that every Wedgwood pensioner will receive a pension whatever happens. But it also has the right to claw back any funds it can from the remaining assets of a bankrupt company, and so has now acquired the right to sell off the collection – valued at between £11 million and £20 million – to help top up its funds.
But to onlookers, selling a unique national heritage asset to help replenish pension industry coffers seems plain wrong. We are increasingly unhappy at the prospect of the PPF acting in a way that is evidently so at odds with the wider public interest. So over the last few months we have been working closely with the Administrator, the Wedgwood family, government and leading legal firm Mishcon de Reya to see if there might be an alternative way for the PPF to recoup some of the assets without it having to sell the collection at all – and we are hopeful we have found it.
It will involve a legal procedure which, though it may take some months, could recover for the PPF a sum greater than the value of the collection. With the need to sell thus removed, the public purse would be spared the responsibility of saving an extraordinary part of Britain’s heritage which should have never been put in danger in the first place.
We will, of course, tell you more about this as soon as we can. Meanwhile we will continue to work with all parties to save this most important national collection from sale.