The first he heard of the decision to move the Acquisitions, Exports and Loans Unit (AELU) – which oversees the issuing of export licences for art and antiques – from London was in a letter from Roy Clare, the chief executive of the Museums and Libraries Association at the end of May.
The MLA decided on the move as part of a general review of its costs and services, leading to what Mr Clare described as “an integrated regional/national staff structure across England”.
While the MLA may benefit from more than £4m in savings in the pursuit of government targets, the effect on the art market is likely to be far from beneficial, says Mr Browne.
Replying to Mr Clare, he set out just how detrimental moving the AELU to Birmingham would be in delaying the administration of export licences.
“The efficient processing of both EU and UK export licences is a key factor in our international trade,” he explained. “Sales can often depend on the rapid processing of licences… This can sometimes involve taking the necessary documentation to the AELU so that a licence can be issued immediately, enabling a buyer to leave the country with a purchase.”
Moving the AELU more than 100 miles from London – the centre of the British art market – would make it “inconceivable” that the current level of service could be maintained, he said.
The MLA have tested and dropped plans to put the service online.
Meanwhile, Mr Browne pointed out that the Culture department had already exceeded its targets for relocating posts outside London and the South East, and he was worried that experienced staff at the AELU might not be able to relocate, causing further problems for licence applicants.
He has copied his letter to the Arts Minister and advises anyone who wants to have their views taken into account on the matter to write directly to the minister.
By Ivan Macquisten