At a meeting on Tuesday 5 June, Members of the County Council’s Education, Libraries and Localism panel were faced with stark facts. Following years of neglect, the Council has apparently realised that it has two valuable art collections worth over £25M which nobody was looking after! Their solution: dispose of over 90% of the works, and just keep the most relevant to Hertfordshire.
Unsurprisingly those in the know had raised a petition from over 500 concerned Hertfordshire residents requesting that the Conservative-run County Council rethinks its plans and works considerably harder to ensure that the collection remains in public rather than private hands and seeks alternative management and funding options for the collection.
Panel members from all parties spoke mostly in support of the petitioners, whilst recognising that officers had at least begun to address the problem. Sadly a good and constructive debate was cut off by the Conservative chair who pushed through a recommendation to cabinet, backed by all Tory members, to just note the report and do nothing to address the concerns of petitioners – not good enough in the opinion of the Liberal Democrat and Labour Councillors present!
County Councillor Mark Watkin, Liberal Democrat and Opposition Spokesperson for Education slammed the County’s approach. “The way this wonderful asset has been allowed to fall into decay is shameful. It is all too reminiscent of the County’s gross mismanagement of Cuffley Camp Outdoor Centre which had to be disposed of because of lack of investment and neglect. It is clear that there has been insufficient and inadequate consultation with bodies such as the University of Hertfordshire, local Museums and other interested bodies. Nothing should be done until all local avenues have been explored, and a coherent strategy developed.”