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The six SLAD chairmen who worked with Battiscombe over his two decades attended a farewell lunch at the Reform Club on July 8: James Roundell, Patrick Bourne, Christopher Battiscombe, Simon Lee, Angela Nevill, David Juda and Nick Maclean.

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My earliest years with SLAD were taken up with Artist’s Resale Right (ARR), which came into force in the UK in 2006. First, helping to negotiate with the government on the way it should be implemented and then discussing with DACS and ACS the precise way in which the rules should be interpreted and explaining the rules to SLAD members.

Sadly, our efforts were not always as successful as I would have liked.

Against our advice the government brought in a threshold of €1000, rather than the €3000 we were arguing for and our efforts to do away with double payment – dealers having to pay ARR both when they buy and when they sell however short the interval in between and even if they sell at a loss – also met with failure. But we were at least able to persuade DACS to reduce their commission rate from 25% to 15%.

My next problem was all the development going on in central London and the effect this was having on dealers’ rents.

Street life

One of my proudest achievements, in cooperation with Mark Dodgson of BADA, was to persuade Westminster Council to impose a condition on the developers in Cork Street: that they could let their new premises only to art or antiques dealers. In our view, Cork Street represented the very heart of the UK art trade and we feared that the loss of 14 out of 20 dealers in the street might inflict a serious impact on the trade.

We wait to see what the long-term consequences of this are, but the fact that the council were prepared to impose such a strenuous and unusual condition seemed to us to demonstrate that they shared our concerns. We were also delighted that we were able to convince the council to create a Special Policy Area in Mayfair and St James’s to try to protect the future of art and antiques dealers in these areas, which are home to two-thirds of SLAD members.

Over the last two to three years my time has been devoted to trying to help members through the triple problems of Anti Money Laundering (AML), Covid and Brexit.

In the short term, at least, Covid has been the worst of these and I have concentrated on trying to ensure that members understand the rules and are aware of the various government relief schemes designed specifically to help retail.

But I was particularly pleased to be able to extract from Westminster Council written acknowledgement that it was not how members were designated that counted in deciding whether or not they were eligible for business rates relief, but what they were actually doing.

The point being that although all of them are involved in retail, many of them are designated as offices or offices and galleries. This ended up saving them a great deal of money and I also worked hard to ensure that they all completed the necessary forms in order to receive it.

On AML, my main priority has been to supplement the BAMF guidance with practical advice on what dealers have to actually do to comply with the regulations, and on Brexit, to try to help them to understand what the rules of the new situation now are.

Sound footing

I will be sad to leave SLAD but feel that I am handing over to my successor, Paul Hewitt, an organisation in excellent health, with membership at record levels and our finances on a sound footing.

He will have lots of challenges of his own to deal with, but I think one of the most interesting ones will be to see to what extent we return to previous patterns of working, once the Covid crisis is over, or whether the increased level of working from home and doing business online will remain a permanent part of the mix.

I suspect the latter and that SLAD will have to adapt to cope with this change.

Either way, I wish Paul and all SLAD members all the very best.

The UK art trade is something we can be very proud of and it has been a pleasure to be a part of it.