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There have been a number of such cases in the past year, the latest reported concerning the possibility of Southampton council selling off art to pay for repairs to the roof of the city's art gallery.

Now in a joint initiative, The Museums Association, Arts Council England, CyMAL, Museums Galleries Scotland and Northern Ireland Museums Council have joined forces to publish an updated 'Disposal Toolkit' along with additional guidance on financially motivated disposal, the most controversial issue in sell-offs, to prevent cynical asset stripping.

"Collections review and disposal are an important part of good collections management," said an Arts Council spokesman.

"The vast majority of disposal activity is undertaken responsibly by museums and the refreshed toolkit will provide them with the support and guidance they need to continue this essential work. The new appendix on financially motivated disposal will help museums understand the exceptional circumstances when it is regarded as acceptable to sell items from collections."

Scott Furlong, director of acquisitions, exports, loans and collections at Arts Council England said: "The provision of these additional guidelines will further expose those who choose to approach the sale of collections cynically or with little regard for cultural value and agreed standards and ethics. They will find that they alienate both the public and funding bodies who put their trust in museums to care for our shared inheritance."