Art Fund Prize winner may have to sell collections to meet pensions deficit

Wedgwood Museum in dispute over £134m shortfall
Patrick Steel
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Wedgwood Pension Plan Trustee Limited (WPPTL), the company set up to manage the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan, is locked in dispute with the Wedgwood Museum Trust (WMT) over liability for the plan’s shortfall.

The dispute centres around advice given to the WMT that, as a permanent endowment, it cannot be available to pay the plan’s debts.

The shortfall, which affects some 7,000 members of the pension scheme, including former employees of Wedgwood Limited, Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Limited and Stuart and Sons Limited, is estimated to be around £134m.

The WPPTL has indicated that it may try to force the sale of the museum’s collections, the WMT’s only asset.

A spokesman for the WMT said: “The Wedgwood Museum Trust can confirm that it is currently in discussions with the Trustees of the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan around the Trust’s potential contribution to the large shortfall in funding within the Pension Plan.

”The Trust, a not for profit charitable organisation, is advised that it does not have a substantial liability for the shortfall, and can not comment further at this stage.”

A source close to the WPPTL said: “It is a delicate situation, but who else are they [the WPPTL] going to go to? It is either this or the Pension Protection Fund, unless the museum comes up with an alternative.”

The Wedgwood Museum, which reopened in October 2008 following a multi-million pound redevelopment, won the £100,000 Art Fund Prize last year; the museum was founded in 1906, and its collection has been designated by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) as being of outstanding national importance.

Museums Journal understands that in January this year the government approved £200,000 in under spend from the Renaissance in the Regions 2009/10 budget to help the WMT meet its legal costs.

A further £25,000 was approved by the government as match funding after the Museum Prize Trust, which administers the Art Fund Prize, allowed the museum to redirect a quarter of its £100,000 as a one-off grant towards the museum’s running costs to allow it to stay open while the legal position on the collection’s status is established.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said: “The DCMS and the MLA are aware of the current financial difficulties being faced by the Wedgwood Museum.

”We have agreed some financial support to the museum in the short term while various legal matters are resolved, and we very much hope that the collection will be able to establish itself on a permanent and stable footing in due course.”

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