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Councils Facing Financial Struggles, Yet Possess Art Collection Valued at £1.5 Billion

The Taxpayers’ Alliance reported that local councils own almost 2 million art pieces, with only 28 percent available for public viewing despite some councils facing financial difficulties.

On Monday, councils in the UK were advised to sell their art collections that are not on display due to financial concerns.

Research by the Taxpayers’ Alliance revealed that local authorities are in possession of nearly 2 million artworks valued at around £1.5 billion, but only 28 percent of these pieces are exhibited to the public.

Jonathan Eida, who conducted the research, suggested that councils should either display the artworks or consider selling them to improve their financial situation.
The urgency for selling art collections arose after several local councils declared an effective bankruptcy by issuing Section 114 notices, with indications that more councils are at risk of doing so.

According to the Taxpayers’ Alliance, local councils collectively own at least 1,854,518 pieces of art, averaging to around 6,265 pieces per council.

These art pieces are located in various places under council control, including museums, galleries, libraries, and other public facilities.

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The data was collected from 339 councils that responded to Freedom of Information requests made by the Taxpayers’ Alliance by Feb. 9.

Durham County Council boasted the largest collection with 500,000 art pieces, likened to the size of the Louvre in Paris and exceeding the National Gallery in London.

Councils were also asked for the value of their art collections, which amounted to approximately £1.5 billion collectively, averaging at £8.7 million per council according to the research.

Manchester City Council possessed the most valuable art collection, valued at £383 million for insurance purposes, as stated in the report.

Few Artworks on Display

The Taxpayers’ Alliance highlighted that some councils provided insurance values of their collections while others offered assessed or assumed market values. The group also noted instances where councils were unsure of the insurance value due to group insurance policies or concerns related to potential increased crime.

The report mentioned that 12 councils had none of their art pieces on display, with several others displaying only a small percentage.

For example, Cambridgeshire County Council owned 68,556 art pieces but only displayed 17, while Manchester City Council exhibited 3.3 percent of its collection.

Furthermore, the research listed the top 10 councils that acquired the most art pieces between 2020/21 and 2022/23, with Wakefield leading with 213 acquisitions during that period.

Commenting on the findings, Mr. Eida expressed concern regarding the impact on taxpayers due to excessive council tax increases over the years.

He emphasized, “Councils should ensure that their art holdings are on public display, or consider selling them to replenish depleted coffers.”

In December, the Local Government Association requested additional central government funding, citing concerns that nearly one in five local councils could potentially face bankruptcy in the upcoming financial year.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Association acknowledged the challenges faced by councils amid financial pressures, emphasizing the importance of essential service provision despite funding constraints.

The County Councils Network noted that a significant majority of local authorities were uncertain about their financial stability in the near future, following a government settlement that was deemed insufficient and likely to result in increased council taxes.

Earlier this year, Birmingham Council outlined plans to address financial imbalances by selling assets worth £750 million and implementing a council tax increase of 9.99 percent.

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