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Art Collection Moves

Art Collection MovesWhilst superficially about improved storage facilities at the Town Hall, this article is also about Fylde's broader Art Collection, and a possible change in direction for its future management.

It also looks at the recent history of Fylde's management of the Art Collection.

And we bring readers a sneak preview of what an Arts Working Group is likely to recommend to the Tourism and Leisure Committee in May.  It would  see a changed approach to the future management of the collection

SYNOPSIS
First we look at the Background to FBC's involvement with its art collection and the arts more broadly.

Next we publish formerly unknown Plans for a sell-off of parts of Fylde's art collection to raise spendable cash, and how and why those plans did not come to pass.

Next we look at Some gossip we heard a while ago about possible uses for some of the buildings opposite the end of Wood Street, then we report an  Extra-Ordinary Tourism and Leisure Committee last week with a Very procedurally odd report, before summarising The report itself.

Finally, we look at the nuggets of information that arose at Committee when the officer Presented the Report at Committee seeking £50k for improved storage facilities, and we briefly report The debate, before giving Our own conclusions.

 BACKGROUND

In the years up to the Millennium - when Fylde Council formed its combined Tourism and Leisure Department, the first sparks of an interest in the Arts began to arise.

Over the years that followed, and notably with the prospect of (what was then) the new 'Arts Lottery Fund' in mind, Fylde Council engaged a specialist arts consultant (funded by a grant from the then North West Arts Service) to research the arts in Fylde, and to deliver a specialist report from which an arts policy and an action plan was developed for the Fylde area.

The main aims were broadly: to increase participation and enjoyment in arts and related activities for Fylde residents; to encourage, and where possible support, arts related businesses (especially those who would also add to the attractions of the area for visitors); and to better manage and conserve the works of art that had been given to the Council.

Chief amongst the works of art in the Council's care were the paintings; some of which were very important.

At least one was of international significance, but to us, the main feature was the collection of paintings by Richard Ansdell RA who lived close to the White Church, and whose name still gives Fylde the unique distinction of being the only place in the UK that has a township or district named after an artist.

To be honest, his paintings are not altogether to our personal taste, but we recognise how nationally important the are in terms of their being the biggest and best collection of Ansdells in the UK, and we recognise their great local importance to the area.

One of the notable achievements of Fylde's creation of the Tourism and Leisure Directorate was the bringing together of all services under one roof.

When the staff from the former Planning Department offices (who had occupied the two semi's next to the Public Offices) moved out to Wesham, the newly amalgamated services of Tourism, Parks, Sport and Leisure moved in.

Responsibility for the art collection had historically been within the Tourism division, and under new Direction, the arts service slowly began to assume greater importance.

Part of the building (opposite the end of Wood Street) housed administrative staff, but most of the ground floor became a Tourist Information Centre and a small Art Gallery after a modest disability compliant refurbishment of the building before the Tourism and Leisure Department moved in.

The gallery was only two rooms, and the space was not large enough for the main works of art in the Council's collection, but it was a 'purpose built' conversion, and it housed a rotating display of the smaller paintings Fylde held in store, together with occasional exhibitions by local artists - notably Margaret King. 

So far as we know, the gallery still exists in the (now closed) building.

So some progress was being made but, as is the way of things, after the 'Civica' accounting computer debacle that brought the finances of the whole council to its knees and the swimming pools closed, the Tourism and Leisure Department, in common with other services, underwent several restructures to reduce the costs. Then the department was broken up, and the Tourist Information Centre and the small art gallery were closed (The justification being that the T and L building was said to be 'unsound' - as indeed was the Town Hall itself, when justification for selling that was also in vogue).

And for a while, 'the arts' seemed to drop off the edge of the Council's table.

 PLANS FOR A SELL-OFF

Then, back in 2013, we picked up some worrying stories about Fylde's art collection.

A report had been prepared for the (then) Cabinet which, to those of us who can read between the lines of such things, signalled a plan was being considered to raise money by selling some of the works of art that Fylde had been given.

At the Cabinet meeting of 16 January 2013, a euphemistic and innocuous-sounding report called "Localism Act – Asset Reviews" was considered.

This was a report of the (then) Council Leader himself, David Eaves - the same man who proposed the sale of Melton Grove to Cabinet in order to give a grant to Lytham Hall. 

We can go back long enough to recall the Council's more comprehensive but actually more awful 'asset review' (which we reported in January 2007 - 'The Great January Sale'). which led directly to the scandalous disposal of Melton Grove and other contentious land disposal matters such has the Heeley Road site.

So we're always on edge when we see the term "Asset Review."

It often means a battle looming.

We were not reassured when we saw these quotes in the report at that time:

"The report provides details of opportunities that have been created as a result of the Localism Act to review all Council assets and consider every option possible to maximise the use of each asset."

So far so good, but experienced arts-supporting readers of council-speak would already be reaching for their shields.

"The ‘general power of competence’ [set out in the Localism Act] presents the opportunity for local authorities to review all of the assets that they hold, including assets that have been gifted to the Authority, and to potentially consider disposal as one of the options. The option to dispose of any asset would be considered in terms of best value and the spirit of the ‘general power of competence’ based on what action any reasonable individual would take. The power does not give councils power to override any claim that a third party may have over the proceeds of a disposal."

Those for whom the arts are important should, by this time, have been getting the armour ready, because you can smell where this is going.

Next came....

"The Council has a responsibility to ensure that we deliver value for money in service delivery and from our asset portfolio. The government has challenged councils to find innovative new ways to utilise their assets to improve local services, keep council running costs down and save taxpayers’ money. "

and

"The Localism Act, and in particular the ‘general power of competence’ provides the opportunity to extend reviews to other assets including works of art, furniture and other gifts bestowed upon the Council."

These paragraphs are fleshing out the justification and providing more detail for what they are about to do. Time to grab the spear.

Then we read

"A review of these assets will involve a comprehensive investigation to establish exactly what options are available based on the individual circumstances of each asset. In accordance with all reviews carried out by the Council there will be full consultation and engagement with all relevant stakeholders and all options presented to elected members for consideration.

Cabinet members are asked to support the extension of our asset reviews to assets other than land and buildings to establish whether there opportunities exist [sic] to obtain greater benefit from them, including maximizing their use or disposing of them. The process would also provide a clear audit trail that demonstrates we are delivering value for money.

As part of this process it will be important that Members clearly identify the benefits envisaged as a consequence of any rationalisation at an early stage."

That last sentence is the killer.

The plan was clearly to promise some wonderful scheme or benefit, to get everyone excited about it, and then to say, Ahhh, but we can only afford it if we sell the Fueslli or whatever.

We believe "Rationalisaton" of the art collection was, in this case, really nothing more than a euphemistic cover for cash generation.

Setting the nail in the coffin, the recommendation to Cabinet was:

"That the Cabinet recognises the opportunities created by the Localism Act to review all assets and requests that officers investigate all options possible in order to ensure that value for money for the public purse is achieved from all Council assets."

The reason for recommendation was said to be:

To ensure that every opportunity is investigated to rationalise the portfolio of assets held by the Council, including works of art, furniture and other non fixed assets with the objective of maximising the use of every asset owned by the Council.

And the (supposed) alternative options considered and rejected were

"The option to review all assets including furniture and art work has been created by the ‘general power of competence’ in the Localism Act. The only alternative is to do nothing and not act on the opportunity provided by the Act which would be counter to the responsibility the Council has to deliver value for money. "

We didn't agree.

This was exactly the sort of twisted logic that got us into the mess of Melton Grove.

The works of art were gifted to the Council by worthy people who trusted the Council to look after them in perpetuity.

How sad those honourable and philanthropic worthies would be, if they could see those in the 2013 Cabinet acting as shysters and hustlers grubbing round the edges of the law to find a way to sell what - in an almost exact repetition of Melton Grove - everyone except the Cabinet understands was given to the people of this town forever.

An it doesn't matter even if the artworks *were* to be sold to raise the money for something as worthy as, say, an art gallery to display the remainder.

It's was still wrong.

It was still a betrayal of trust.

It was still immoral.

And it showed an Oscar Wild Politburo Leader and Cabinet system operating with no integrity, knowing the cost of everything, and the value of nothing.

But also at that time, our former reader the Blue Mole (who is now, sadly, no longer with us) got in touch with us again.

Sadly, our friend and correspondent the Blue Mole is no linger with us.Without knowing we were already onto the story, Blue Mole told us that:

David Eaves was looking to move some 'assets' from the council books over the next year.

But what most people didn't know was that the assets included some of the councils art work - including the Fuselli painting - which he had decided was worth a million pounds.

He [Cllr Eaves] knew the issue was contentious - as Cllr Susan Fazackerley was dead against the sale, and the Cabinet and officers had been sworn to secrecy in case the 'opposition' found out about it.

Blue Mole told us the pictures were donated years ago, so permission had to be sought, and that the money would be used to underpin the leading group's budget, and take them past the next election. Adding:

"This will stave off the need to raise council tax by a significant level to cover the mis-matched sums in the budget, which means we are spending beyond our means."

Blue Mole concluded

"The surprise will come during Princess Karen's almost certain tenure as leader of the Conservative group. She incidentally sees this as a challenge that will show her as strong, and assure her of a safe seat in a forthcoming European or national election.. watch this space"

Although his prediction of elevation for Cllr Buckley did not come to pass, if the other information from The Blue Mole was as accurate as usual, (and up to then it had been 100% accurate) we felt able to deduce that, at that time, Fylde's officers would have been tracing and making contact with the heirs and assigns of the original donors to see if an accommodation could be reached to allow the Cabinet to prepare to sell the works of art.

We thought maybe there would be offers made for a percentage of the sale proceeds to sweeten the deal.

There are hundreds of works of art at Fylde, and the process was clearly going to take quite a time, so we knew nothing would happen overnight.

We suspected local people wouldn't be too impressed if the news became public.

We were also aware of the existence of a group called Friends of the Lytham St Annes Art Collection (who had done an exceptional job in promoting and raising public awareness of the art that Fylde holds on behalf of us all), and we couldn't imagine they would be party to this either, but we were not sure they even knew about it.

We subsequently heard they had been made aware of the plan and had gone into action behind the scenes, working assiduously and tirelessly to bring the sale plan to a halt.

And to her great credit - although we frequently criticise Cllr Fazackerley - on this occasion, we believe she argued vigorously within the Conservative Group to oppose what Cllr Eaves and Cllr Buckley were said to want.

To our delight, we heard that, behind the scenes, her arguments carried the majority and the plan was, at least temporarily, abandoned.

Not only that, but a much closer working relationship between the Council and the Friends group was put in place, and broadly, the threat to the art collection evaporated.

We had been ready to make the plan to sell artworks public - so it's advocates at Fylde would recognise what we believed would be the weight of public opinion against the plan. But when we heard that positive things were happening behind the scenes, we refrained from publishing the article.

We didn't want to do anything that might damage the good work that Cllr Fazackerley and the leaders of the Friends' group were achieving.

And for some years, the matter rested in that position.

The Friends group continued doing excellent work with others to secure and promote Fylde's collection and to make it more accessible within the means available.

 RECENT RUMBLINGS

Then, after some great successes - chiefly via the 'Friends' group and Fylde's Decorative and Fine Arts Society in researching and documenting the collection, we heard some quite significant gossip....

Fylde's Town Hall has undergone huge and very expensive improvements in recent years, and the finale of this work is just about to be unveiled.

Within the next month or two we expect Fylde to once again have its own Council Chamber in the Town Hall. The paint is drying and the furniture and fittings will be installed shortly we understand.

We expect to do an article on the long saga of the Town Hall in the near future, but when the former Commissar went, and Cllr David Eaves became Leader, he said the former Commissar's projected cost of £7m for the new Town Hall was far too much to spend, and he would revamp the existing building for not more than £3m.

No only that, but it would cost taxpayers nothing extra - because he would sell off a number of assets to pay for the makeover.

Once again our ears pricked up, but thankfully this time, the art collection was not mentioned.

This time the plan was to sell Wesham Offices, St David Road North Depot and the Public Offices and a few other bits, to raise the money.

Wesham offices went, as did the Depot, but the plan didn't quite work out for the Public Offices, where no-one would give Fylde what they thought it was worth, and what was needed to complete the Town Hall scheme.

Eventually, it dawned on FBC that they couldn't raise all the money from asset sales, and Fylde has, in the end, used taxpayers cash to complete the work.

But what that means is that the two semi's at the end of Wood Street next to the Public Offices have not been sold - or at least not yet - and there was no immediate likelihood of their being sold.

Then we heard gossip that some within the Conservative group were considering an alternative use for them, and we heard the words 'Art Gallery' used in the same sentence.

We've no idea whether this was true or not, nor were we clear whether the possibility related to the two semis or to the former Public Offices building itself. But if either of those possibilities was in some sort of contention, we think we could make a good guess who might be driving the idea.

Having only heard it as gossip, we wouldn't publish it unless we subsequently confirmed it. But when you hear words like council offices' and 'art gallery' used in the same sentence from folk who might just know what's going on in the higher echelons of Fylde's Conservative Group, we tend to salt that information away, waiting for some form of link or corroboration to appear.

So, this idea might have been a 'live' item - or it might not. We don't know more than that at present.

But we did spot something recently that we think might create such a link, and we know our readers who are interested in the arts would want to know about it.

 SPECIAL TOURISM AND LEISURE COMMITTEE

On 8th February 2018, an extra-ordinary meeting of Fylde's Tourism and Leisure Committee was called.

It was a single item agenda headed "Budget Setting – Late Capital Bid 2018/19 - Town Hall Arts Store Improved Storage Facilities"

 PROCEDURALLY, THIS IS AN ODD REPORT

This was a very unusual report because, only a month earlier, the scheduled Tourism and Leisure Committee, had considered (as Item 6 on its agenda), "Budget Setting – Prioritisation of Capital Bids 2018/19" and nothing on the agenda at that time had mentioned the Art Store

So either there were costs that had been awaited - and they had come in too late for the previous Agenda report, or some other reason had caused this item not to be on the last T&L agenda.

The report didn't say much about why it was 'late' . The closest it came was a sentence that said:

"This report presents a late capital bid which has emerged from the Arts Service Review Working Group in relation to improving the storage of artwork in the Town Hall."

Procedurally it was a strange report. It was said to be the report of the "Development Services Directorate"

This is quite unusual because, normally, reports like this are attributed to a specific officer (or very occasionally a specific member) and this was attributed impersonally.

Furthermore, the 'Lead Author' for the report is stated to be "Management Team".

Again this is very unusual. The normal process is for the author to be named as an officer - or at least as the post an officer holds - e.g. the Chief Executive (or whoever).

To say this report is authored by the 'Management Team' is, frankly, weird.

It's as though it has been prepared corporately by the Chief Executive and all the Departmental Directors (who, collectively, form the Management Team), and we have never in all our experience seen such a thing happen before.

So something in its gestation is, well, a bit fishy, at least.

It didn't get any better when we looked at the report's recommendation. It wasn't a recommendation at all, it simply said

"The Committee is requested:

1. To consider and provide any feedback or comments on the capital bid as shown at Appendix A to this report."

The normal expectation associated with a 'Decision Item' like this would be for it to contain an officer's recommendation for some course of action that the Council might wish to follow.

In fact, the formal distinction between a 'Decision Item' and an 'Information Item' on any Committee agenda at Fylde is that an Information Item is only described as such where the officer decides that a recommendation is not necessary for that item. (But its absence does not preclude members in Committee proposing and voting for a resolution of 'their own').

So it follows that a report which requires a decision (as this did) should also have had a recommendation from its author.

In this case it might have been something like "That the Committee consider the report and make a recommendation to the Finance and Democracy Committee to include the sum of £xxxxx in the setting of the 2018/19 Capital budget" - or words to that effect.

But this report had no recommendation. We thought it had the feel of being a 'Teflon report'  - care has been taken to give it a non-stick liability.

We wondered why there were so many 'irregularities' with the preparation of this report - but as yet we can't work out just what is going on.

Furthermore, as will be seen from the above, the previous month's item was to PRIORITISE the capital bids which the Committee might want to have.

In the event, that previous meeting heard only one bid (£50,000 to improve Staining Playing Field - submitted by a Fylde Officer on behalf of the 'Friends of Staining Open Spaces Group'), so there could be no prioritisation applied.

But bringing this as a 'late item' to a special committee means that the two bids will be considered without having been prioritised.

We've known that to have been done before - sometimes to avoid the need to prioritise one bid over another, in the hope that both are agreed.

So whilst we can potentially see a number of reasons for the unusual gestation and timing of the report, (including perhaps, nothing more than a series of unfortunate co-incidences), we're not yet wholly clear about exactly what's going on here.

 THE REPORT ITSELF

The report says almost nothing. The detail is all in the appendix.

The Appendix itself says it has been prepared by a Fylde officer on behalf of 'Arts Service Review Working Group' and we know from experience that information provided by this officer has historically been competent, reliable and factually sound.

It begins by noting that The 'Arts Service Review Working Group' were formed by the Tourism and Leisure Committee to review of the Councils Arts Collection.

It goes on to say that the Working Group has held two meetings with officers to discuss the future management options of the art collection - after the establishment of the provenance for each piece within the collection, and after the latest legal opinion provided by an external legal professional in 2017.

(That last sentence had caught our attention quite sharply).

The report went on to say

The working group had considered four main future options in relation to the art collection:

  1. Maintain the Status Quo

  2. Transfer to a Trust or Community Group

  3. Sell all or part of the collection (Application to the Court and Charities Commission required to establish ownership)

  4. Adopt Proactive Management

The Working Group had made some draft recommendations which include pursuing option 4.

It also said that detailed recommendations will be presented to the Tourism and Leisure Committee in May 2018, after a third and final meeting of the Working Group.

it said the review has revealed a number of issues that will need addressing if the Council is to adopt a more proactive approach to managing the art collection. The most urgent of these was the current storage facilities relating to the collection in the basement part of the Town Hall complex.

And from there it went on to explain why £50,000 should be spent improving the conditions for storing those paintings and works of art that are not on display, but are temporarily in store.

Readers who want the full details can get them from Fylde's website for as long as they are available there.

 WHAT HAPPENED AT COMMITTEE?

The Officer was invited to deliver the report, but before doing so he set the context for it, referring to the Working Group meetings that had taken place.

We found much of what he said very interesting, and have reproduced it verbatim below.

We expect to see a more expanded version at the May T&L meeting, but last week, he said:

"..A nine member Working Group was appointed to review the art collection - just the art collection, not the wider arts service. And as a result of that nine member working group, we discussed the future management, and made some key decisions on the art collection."

It may just have been a slip of the tongue on his part, but of course a Working Group (even a cross party one like this was) has no powers to take decisions unless it is properly 'politically balanced' to reflect the composition of the whole Council.

 This one was not, so it could not have done so.

It may only make recommendations, and all of those recommendations will have to be reported to, and if necessary debated and discussed, by the full Tourism and Leisure Committee, before any decision can be taken.

Unfortunately what this does show is a culture where Working Groups 'expect' to take decisions, and officers have to be very careful not to fall into the trap of treating them as such.

He continued:

"We've had two meetings to date, and very quickly, the first meeting began with the officers sharing information about the art collection - all aspects of the art collection - historically, what it contains, and bringing members up to date on previous decisions and the legal position.

The main point of that first meeting was to clarify the legal status of the collection, as, obviously, members are aware there is a lot of debate about 'Can we?, Can we not?' sell etc.

Ian Curtis the Head of Governance attended that meeting and explained quite clearly that, in simple terms, the pieces are held - the majority of the pieces are held  - in Trust by the Council, and not owned by the Council.

The reason that we know they're held in Trust is because of the provenance of each piece. So Amanda Draper, the Arts Development Officer, she did a (inaudible word "recent"?) piece of work over 12 months to establish the provenance of each piece.

The summary of that basically was: Fylde do own, categorically, around 15 pieces.

Unfortunately, the value of those is minimal.

The rest of the pieces are held in trust.

In other words, they've been given, donated to the Council for the wider benefits of the people to view.

And by taking them in trust - and a lot of this goes back 50 years - we gained responsibility for the future management of those pieces.

So that was the main item of the first meeting. Then we covered other aspects regarding community and involvement and what the Council currently spends money on etc etc.

In Mr Moffat's legal opinion - he was the barrister that was brought in to give that external legal opinion - he strongly proposed that we looked after the collection and, in his terms, created a strategic framework. So basically we needed to better look after the collection, better manage and be clear about what we're going to do in the future.

So that was his recommendation.

Regarding sale of items, his strong opinion is to sell anything would only be for the benefit of the wider collection.

However, to justify that, we would have to apply to the Charities Commission, and the Courts, to explain exactly why and what we would do with that money, and why we'd want to sell them, and what benefit it would have to the wider collection.

So in theory if we wanted to sell items a, b, and c, we would have to clearly define how that money would be spent on the wider collection.

To do that we would have had to have established the strategic framework. In other words a management framework that is clear on what we are doing, including in that is how the collection is stored.

So that was the first meeting.

The second meeting, officers presented the working group with four options, managerial options, moving forward, a, b, c, and d.

a) Status Quo. Continue doing what we're doing at the moment which is doing some exhibiting at Booths, and doing some minimal conservation work.

The second was to transfer the collection to another party, a Trust, as a collection, say Blackpool for example,.

The third was to sell part or all of the collection, again, referring to the first legal opinion, that will depend on having a strategic framework to apply to the court to do that,

And the fourth one was to adopt a pro-active management style.

After debate and going through all the pros and cons of each option, the Working Group decided that we would like to pursue option d) to create a more pro-active management style"

Sadly, there's that DECISION word again.

Working Parties may not take decisions. They may only make recommendations to their parent committee.

He continued

"So basically that means creating a suite of policies, plans, a business plan if you like, to move forward to know exactly what we're doing with the collection, from conservation, to exhibiting, to storage etc.

And that is where the last meeting ended, so we are looking at Museum Accreditation for the collection, which will mean we can get it (indistinct word 'grant'?) funded as a collection moving forward on all items again from conservation to exhibiting.

To summarise the end of that meeting, I think members agreed that it was important to monitor the collection correctly. Whether that leads to external funding grants to help us to look after the collection moving forward, or whether that is to apply to sell pieces a, b, and c for the wider collection, in either option, storage of the collection is key, as external funders will (indistinct word) upon us the current situation and to apply to the court, the charities commission to sell pieces a, b, and c they will (indistinct word) upon us for not doing what we should be doing in the first place.

So the storage of the collection is key in either option to which way the Working Group make their final recommendations."

(Nice to see the 'R word' being used there)

"At the end of that meeting, the Working Group requested that a last-minute capital bid was submitted to the Council for the improvement to the existing storage facility."

But as a Working Group, they can't do that of course.

So we're guessing this might be the reason for the strange gestation of this report.

The Working Group can't take decisions, and the Working Group has not yet formally reported its recommendations to this, its parent Committee.

And technically, without that, there can be no request for money to be put into a budget.

So this report has appeared as a sort of explanation of what has happened so far, and it attempts to presume, (or more particularly to have the Parent Committee assume) that they will agree with the direction the Working Group is expected to recommend next May, (when, of course, it will be too late to have anything in next year's budget). So we wonder if this this might be at the root of the strange gestation of this report which appears to circumvent the proper procedures.

We're not sure its approach is wrong, but in our experience, it's at least unusual, and it might be why the report (as opposed to the appendix) is not attributed to any (cautious) individual officer.

This officer went on to say that Members had visited the storage facility - which he said was unsuitable.

He then handed over to another officer who took the committee through the work that was proposed which was roughly 50% for the cost of mobile wire panel rack storage rather than the wooden racking currently in use, and 50% for structural and building and environmental controls works in what would be an improved store.

 THE DEBATE

Several members spoke, mostly those who had not been party to the Working Group considerations and who were seeking further understanding or clarification.

Some offered helpful suggestions as to where the pictures in the store could be displayed (and of course, as has been the case many times before, Lytham Hall was suggested)

When it came, the vote was unanimous to approve the bid to go to the Finance and Democracy Committee - which is chaired by Cllr Karen Buckley.

So her next Committee will consider this and other Capital funding requests before making an overall recommendation to the full Council on how much capital spending should be agreed for all Fylde's Committees.

 OUR OWN CONCLUSIONS

If they feel able to afford it, the new racking is undoubtedly a good idea.

It has been sought on several occasions before, but councillors had never felt able to give it sufficient priority in the greater scheme of overall capital spending plans. Maybe this time they will.

But of greater interest to us was the fact that selling parts of the collection was STILL being considered - albeit that the latest legal advice they have received will probably preclude any moves to sell works of art that were given to the people and are held in trust for them by the Council.

We've spoken before about the (unusual) County of Lancashire Act which precludes such sales without meeting some very stringent conditions (Readers with a deeper interest should follow this link to read our article 'Not Out' article of 2012,  and can follow this link to download Section 58 of the County of Lancashire Act  itself to see chapter and verse).

So with that, and the new information that most of Fylde's art *is* held in trust, we think it's protection is now quite strong.

What we're more curious about now, is what the final recommendations of the Working Party will be to the Tourism and Leisure Committee when they have had their third and final meeting in time for the May Tourism and Leisure meeting.

If they're already up to speed on the collection, and what they can and can't do with it,  and they've already decided to recommend a more - as they call it - proactive management approach, and they have already addressed the content, provenance and storage of the collection, one might think that, according to Fylde's Officer' explanation, the only remaining items to be discussed would be "conservation and exhibiting".

Conservation is chiefly about how much the Council is prepared to spend to have the paintings periodically cleaned and maintained.

Typically Fylde has (historically) spent about £10,000 a year which addresses typically two or three of the larger paintings.

With about 200 oils and watercolours in the collection, and using a crude metric, that offers attention to one painting every 60-70 years on average. So there may be some consideration of speeding that up for while. But as far as we can see, that's about all that can be changed for 'conservation'

In terms of exhibiting, given that much - if not all - of the collection is already publicly available online (Readers who want to see the paintings online can follow this link to the Friends of the Lytham St Annes Art Collection - who have published images of the works of art from their very well executed 'Tagging the Treasures' project) then the remaining 'exhibiting' issues are likely to be about how the works of art may be put on public display.

Since its opening in 2007, the Booth's 'Fylde Gallery' in their Lytham store has been a great benefit in this regard.

It has proper modern security arrangements and the relevant environmental conditions to cater for paintings of the calibre that are held in trust by FBC.

Few other places (outside an existing museum or art gallery) can meet the insurance and environmental requirements necessary to put Fylde's paintings on display.

However, with current speculation about the future ownership of Booths stores generally, that situation may not be altogether secure for the longer term.

So we can't help wondering whether one of the things that the Working Group might be discussing at their final meeting is whether, and if so, where, Fylde might find some alternative exhibition space, perhaps even space of is own.

And that makes us wonder if the gossip we heard a while back - that the buildings opposite the end of Wood Street might yet become Fylde's own 'canvas'  might have some substance.

We look forward to hearing what the Working Party has to say when it makes its final recommendations in May.

Dated:  16 February 2018

 

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