SPEEDY government intervention is essential to save the Wedgwood Museum’s collection, descendants of Josiah Wedgwood say.
Hopes of a solution through a bail-out by
mobile phones billionaire John Caudwell are premature, they argue,
because, although welcome, it is not clear that it would secure the
museum's future as a trust.
Unless Culture Minister Ed Vaizey steps in
to ringfence money raised so that pension creditors cannot claim
it, say the Wedgwoods, campaigners cannot launch a fund-raising
appeal to save the museum.
The Wedgwood family moved the crisis back
into the spotlight last week with a direct appeal to the government
through the letters page of the Daily Telegraph.
They are still waiting to hear if the
Attorney General will appeal against the December High Court ruling
that the Barlaston collection can be sold to pay for a £134m
pension fund deficit linked to the collapse of the Wedgwood
As previously reported, a legal loophole
left the museum trust exposed to the claim after Waterford Wedgwood
went into administration in January 2009. The company was sold but,
under the terms of the deal, the US buyer did not have to take on
the obligations of the pension shortfall, leaving a massive hole in
the pension fund.
The museum trust had been established as an
entirely separate entity from the company in the early 1960s, but
it transpired that, because five of the museum's employees remained
members of the Waterford Wedgwood company pension scheme, the
museum trust's trading company could be held responsible for the
entire pension shortfall.
The High Court ruling followed the
introduction of a statutory instrument in parliament in April 2008
to prevent companies from hiding assets from creditors. It allowed
for any company with links to a scheme to be held responsible for
Potteries-born entrepreneur John Caudwell
says he will put up the money, thought to be between £11.5m and
£18m, to buy the 10,000-piece collection, but the terms of the
offer have not been made public and it is not clear whether
conditions he wishes to impose would hamper the deal.
The Wedgwoods are hopeful of government
help, pointing out that Mr Vaizey himself had expressed concern
over the "complicated piece of legislation [that] has the most
dramatic and unforeseen consequences. Potentially, those
consequences put one of the great cultural jewels of the nation
"The collection comprises 10,000 pieces of
British ceramics, art, archives, private letters and details of 250
years of scientific experiments, revolutionary marketing and
exquisite design," the Wedgwoods wrote in
"The Government has recently agreed to a £40m increase in the
budget for the London Olympics opening ceremony. Roughly a quarter
of this sum would save the collection forever."