Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

The Museums and Library Association, who oversee the unit, have decided on the delay to give them time to see how they can introduce a viable online application system.

British Art Market Federation chairman Anthony Browne, who only heard about the proposed move to Birmingham in May after it had already been decided, immediately raised serious concerns as to the effect that the unit leaving London would have on the trade.

He has now welcomed the announcement of the delay.

The MLA want to make the move to Birmingham because they have calculated that they may save more than £4m by integrating their operation.

However, as Mr Browne pointed out at the time, efficient processing of both EU and UK export licences “is a key factor in our international trade”. With sales often depending on the rapid processing of licences – even taking the necessary documentation to the AELU in person so that a licence can be issued immediately – a move more than 100 miles from London would have been damaging without a working online alternative.

The MLA had earlier tested an online system but then scrapped the idea. Now, however, they have put back the move until June next year.

“An online system would be a cost-effective new benefit for customers, but we need time to explore this in detail, and to hear the views of the people who would be using it,” said an MLA spokesman. The MLA has also promised that if an online system proves secure and effective, a paper-based applications system would remain available for users who prefer it.