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 manufacturing firm.
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 any shortfall.
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 under threat".
"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 Telegraph.
"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."