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Not Out?

Not Out?As readers might have seen, a recent and triumphalist 'HOWZAT!' headline appeared in the Gazette as Thames Primary School in Blackpool's South Shore sold a work of art that had been donated to the school in 1926 by former Coun W.D. Hallstead. It had hung at the school for 86 years.

According to the Gazette, it was painted in 1882, by Philip Hermogenes Calderon and titled 'Captain of the Eleven' and depicts a young Victorian boy preparing to defend his cricket wicket.

The painting became world famous when it featured in a campaign to promote Pear’s soap, and that was chiefly the reason it sold for £289,250 at auction recently, more than double its pre-sale estimate.

According to Cllr Lily Henderson, (former Chairman of the school's Governors) speaking after the sale, the painting was a marvellous gift.

She added that “No-one knew how much it was worth" and said she was "very pleased they will be able to spend the money on some very necessary repairs, although as someone who was a governor for so many years I would like it if they could go to bigger premises."

Announcing the sale of the artwork, headteacher Tracey Harrison told The Gazette: “It was a difficult decision for us to part with the painting but we hope it will provide a wonderful legacy for future Thames children."

In a previous comment to the Gazette, she had also said "We have long known it is a valuable painting, but the priority is providing the best possible facilities. Ours is a 19th-century school with some classrooms in need of modernisation and if the painting reaches its estimate of £100,000 to £150,000, that's what the money will contribute to."

We struggle to agree with the headteacher on this. The real legacy was the painting itself that she has just disposed of. Quite what part of a building repair can be considered a 'legacy' we don't understand.

To us, the picture represented the values of that different era, when children were considered children, not prepubescent adults to be marketed at, where values like personal responsibility, fairness, honesty, integrity, and trust were almost taken for granted as being normal, not something to be sidelined in the rush for selfish (and often personal) gain.

The disposal goes on to add insult to the injury of the donor, because it appears the painting has been replaced by a reproduction of the original, together with a plaque recording the bequest.

What an idea!

We could do the same for, say, Stonehenge. Just get that clever stagework company that did the Pirate's head for Treasure Island on the Golden Mile to mock up a few fibreglass reproductions of the standing stones, and we could sell the original to Dubai or somewhere for a few billion and help get the country back on its economic feet.

Thames Primary School is a 'Community School' - and part of Blackpool Council's Children and Young People’s Department, so it is Local Authority controlled.

To be truthful (and as readers have probably already probably gathered), we're not overly impressed with the idea of selling the painting and replacing it with a reproduction, and we were uneasy when we first heard about the idea to sell it at all.

If the school needs repairs, then we say it should be paid for from taxes, not by selling items that were given as gifts to remind today's children of their cultural heritage, and if Blackpool Council hasn't got the money to repair the school, we're sure there will be lots of less-important things than school classrooms that are currently receiving money that could be stopped or reduced in order to fund the school repairs. (Maybe they could have used some of the £5m loan they made to the Pleasure beach?) As ever, this is a matter of spending priorities.

Those with silver hair and longer memories can recall the 1970s and 80's when 'innovative' councils embarked on all sorts of cunning devices to raise funds.

We seem to recall Liverpool Council Leader - Derek (Degsy) Hatton - selling all the street lamps to get a capital receipt, then immediately leasing them back. Nothing changed except he took out the equivalent of a second mortgage on them.

We also recall a plan to sell all the paintings in a Derbyshire (?) Council that provoked such uproar that the Government called a halt to the process.

At about that time, the Lancashire County Council was involved with creating something you don't often see today, its own Act of Parliament. It had some significant issues it wanted legislation for, and - as ever with Bills going through Parliament - all sorts of miscellaneous bits and pieces of legislative change were added in during its progress through Parliament, one of which might be of interest here, and concerns the disposal of works of Art.

In essence, clause 58 of that Act sought to prevent works of art that were in public ownership from passing into the ownership of others, but at the same time allowing for the disposal of 'unsuitable' works of art amongst them, in order to acquire other works of art that were 'more suitable'. So for example, Fylde BC has a good collection by local artist Richard Ansdell, and some works by other artists. It would be lawful to dispose of one or more of the 'others' in order to acquire more Ansdels to improve its collection. But it would not be lawful to sell paintings and use the money for, say, repairing the Town Hall.

The Act also made clear that in some circumstances, councils could lend out works of art that were not required for exhibition, and could transfer them for display in another museum, gallery or library that was a more suitable home for them.

But they cannot sell them and use the money for purposes other than specimens, works or art, or books.

We eventually managed to find a copy of the 1984 County of Lancashire Act and readers can follow this link to see the relevant part - (Section 58).

Now, if our understanding of the Act is right, Blackpool might now be in a bit of a muddle.

They might have broken the law by selling the painting from Thames School with the declared intention of using the proceeds to repair the fabric of the school.

And having sold it at auction, it's probably going to be difficult to undo that transaction unless something like a Judicial Review were to set aside the sale transaction. So in all probability the only practical outcome we can see is for the proceeds to be used to acquire a 'more suitable' work of art, not to repair the school buildings.

You'd think someone in an authority with the administrative and legal firepower of Blackpool would have known about this Act,  so maybe it's all OK and they know something we don't.

Or maybe they are relying on some other legislation we haven't considered, say the new General Power of Competence in the Localism Act

But so far as we can tell, the 1984 Act has not been repealed. And although it might be argued by those wishing to do so - that the General Power of Competence in the recent Localism Act might be invoked to justify the disposal, we suspect that particular argument would not stand, because that power is circumscribed by the requirement for all actions taken under the General Power of Competence to be within existing law, and this disposal doesn't appear to be so.

And as if that wasn't enough, there's another little twist as well.

Another part of the County of Lancashire Act seems to us to say that the Director, (or equivalent person with a different post name) may be personally liable for breaches of the provisions of the Act, as might the individual members of the Governing body.

The wording here actually says

"135(1) Where an offence under this Act or against any byelaw made under this Act Committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, any director or any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he, as well as the body corporate shall be guilty of the offence.

(2) Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members subsection (1) above shall apply to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with his functions of management as if he were a director of the body corporate."

This looks like proper old legislation to us. It holds individuals personally accountable for the decisions they make, not like today's wishy-washy partnerships and joint committees and suchlike.

We're interested to see how this plays out, so we'll keep a watch for developments and let readers know.

Dated:  29 July 2012


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