Can lawyers save £14m Wedgwood collection?
HOPES have been raised that the world-renowned Wedgwood collection may not have to be sold off.
National charity the Art Fund is planning legal action to save the collection, which has just been valued at between £11 million and £17 million.
The situation has arisen after the Wedgwood Museum, in Barlaston, was forced to call in the administrators in 2010 after being hit with a £134 million pension claim stemming from the collapse of Wedgwood itself the previous year.
The Pension Protection Fund (PPF) – which provides compensation for members of defined benefit pension schemes when companies have collapsed – could not accept the claim because five of its 7,500 members were employees of the still-solvent museum trust.
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And in December the High Court ruled that administrators could sell the 10,000-piece Wedgwood collection to help plug that £134 million gap.
But now the Art Fund believes legal action could help the PPF recoup some of the cash without the collection having to be sold.
It has not gone into detail about what the action would entail, but chairman David Verey said: "To onlookers, selling a unique national heritage asset to help replenish pension industry coffers seems plain wrong.
"We are increasingly unhappy at the prospect of the PPF acting in a way that is evidently so at odds with the wider public interest.
"So over the last few months we have been working closely with the administrator, the Wedgwood family, Government and leading legal firm Mishcon de Reya to see if there might be an alternative way for the PPF to recoup some of the assets without it having to sell the collection at all – and we are hopeful we have found it.
"It will involve a legal procedure which, though it may take some months, could recover for the PPF a sum greater than the value of the collection."
The collection includes rare ceramic pieces, such as company founder Josiah Wedgwood's copy of the famous Roman Portland Vase, left, paintings by Thomas Gainsborough and George Stubbs and Josiah Wedgwood's notes.
Alison Wedgwood, of Rectory Road, Hollington, whose husband Tom is a direct descendant of Josiah Wedgwood, said: "The Wedgwood family have been in extensive discussions with the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey, Tristram Hunt MP and local councils to work out the best strategy for saving this vitally-important national collection.
"We completely support the Art Fund in the legal proceedings and hope that this will ensure the collection is saved without the need for either public fund-raising, or Government intervention. However it may not work and we will not stop fighting for the collection until we are 100 per cent sure it is saved."
Stoke-on-Trent Central MP Tristram Hunt said the collection had recently been valued at between £11 million and £17 million.
He said: "The figure in the middle is £14 million and we are waiting for the PPF to sign off on that valuation. Once that's done we then have a figure to work towards in any fund-raising campaign."