Museums Galleries Scotland steps in over Moray Council auction proposals - Museums Association

Museums Galleries Scotland steps in over Moray Council auction proposals

MGS in talks with council over future of museum service
Patrick Steel
Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) stepped in following proposals by Moray Council to explore the sale of items from its museum collection at a meeting last week.

A report on the council’s museum service, which was approved by councillors at the meeting on 27 September, stated: “It is recommended that the council approve the development of options to create a sustainable future for the service, including the engagement of auction houses to explore possible sales of items from the collection.”

The museum service holds over 50,000 items. Its budget for 2016-17 was £103,022.

Prior to the meeting, MGS wrote to the council, emphasising that the sales would be considered unethical, and that the proposals placed the council and its museum service at risk of being removed from the UK-wide museums Accreditation scheme. This could in turn affect the ability of the museum service to apply for grant funding.

“There has been a precedent set for this concern,” the letter stated. “Not least the case of Northampton Borough Council, which in 2014 had its Accredited status revoked following a collections sale which breached the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics.”

The council is hoping that funds raised from an auction could support either a transfer of the museum service to a dedicated trust; the set-up of a Moray Heritage and Culture Trust with a wider remit to include partnerships with local attractions; a business improvement district for the sector; or the maintenance of the existing service with an income or asset base that provides a saving.

Despite agreeing the proposals, the council also committed to entering a dialogue with MGS to find a sustainable way forward for the service.

Michael Rhind, the chairman of the Friends of the Falconer Museum, said: “The friends are worried about the proposed sale. It is still early in the process. Ethically, we do not agree [with the proposals], but if it is the case that we could sell one item to fund the trust then that is a difficult choice.

“We are running with council support now, but there will be a time when the museum has to be handed to trust.”

The friends are seeking advice on their position from the British Association of Friends of Museums, and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.

In 2013 Moray Council, facing a £30m budget cut, approved a 100% cut to its arts budget, the first local authority in Scotland to completely withdraw backing for arts and culture. Museums Journal understands that at the time the council’s legal team advised against a disposal of the museum collections as ownership and provenance were not entirely clear.

Also in 2013, Tomintoul Museum was transferred out of council management to trust. In 2015 the council stopped funding the Elgin Museum, which had an annual budget of £13,200.

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