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Mr Clarke set out details of how the Government intended to tackle the issue in an interview with Invaluable, the online auction search and database company, which hopes to be a major player in the Home Office’s national scheme.

In the interview, Mr Clarke calls the development of the national database “the logical thing to do” and says he sees the way ahead as “a public/private partnership between the organisations which were already doing this, and the governmental organisations and the police, to ensure we share data properly and work in a coherent way”.

There had been a question over funding as Arts Minister Alan Howarth, who initially announced the plan for a database, said that Government departments would have to pay for the initiative out of existing budgets. But Mr Clarke told Invaluable: “I am certain we will [put up more money] once we have seen a proposition.”

He also made it clear that the database should be set up sooner rather than later: “The time scale for this is as soon as possible. I feel we have got a process that could deliver something useful relatively rapidly. The battle the whole time is to push it up everyone’s agenda.” It is a battle that is likely to continue until Whitehall funding is forthcoming, because despite the clear popularity of the scheme across Government, it would need the co-operation and co-ordination of at least three, if not four departments: the Home Office, the Culture department, the Treasury and probably Trade and Industry. To get somewhere quickly, Mr Clarke must “push it up” the agenda – and thereby spending priorities – of all of them.

Mr Clarke made an important acknowledgement in his interview: that the 43 different police forces across the country “don’t communicate with each other” – a vital part of any drive to recover stolen art and antiques. He pointed to a pilot project to build interforce intelligence and communications systems in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire and said the Government was trying to improve matters further with the appointment last autumn of Regional Crime Reduction Directors.

Logbook confusion

DESPITE a national newspaper report last weekend that under the stolen database plans all transactions would have to be logged by dealers in a special book and entered onto the database, this is not the case.

The logbook proposal, which forms part of the Kent Bill, would not involve entering any records on the database, which is purely for recording stolen items.