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Fight to save Wedgwood collection from company pension scheme

Because of a legal quirk, the museum's works could be sold off to pay factory employee pensions

The museum's new 10.5m pound building on the factory site at Barlaston opened in October 2008

LONDON. A fundraising campaign may be launched to save the Wedgwood Museum outside Stoke on Trent, if courts rule that its collection can be sold to pay the pensions liability of the Waterford Wedgwood company, which went into administration in January 2009.

Through a legal quirk, the Wedgwood Pension Fund trustees, who face a deficit of £134m for employees, may be able to claim against the museum. The museum had only six staff in the scheme, whose pension interest represented £60,000, but it could be liable for all of the fund’s 7,000 claimants.

Because of the pensions issue, the Wedgwood Museum Trust was itself put under administration in January, and it is temporarily run by insolvency practitioner Begbies Traynor. The next stage is for the courts to decide whether the museum’s assets could be seized. This is a complex legal matter and is likely to require a detailed hearing to resolve this autumn. In the meantime, the museum remains open to visitors, as normal.

If the courts rule that the pension plan trustees can claim against the museum, then “we would consider launching a public appeal to raise money to buy back the collection, and to request time for this to happen,” said Begbies Traynor executive Bob Young. An application might also be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which supported the redisplay of the award-winning museum.

Although the value of the collection is unknown, we understand that it is around £15m. It comprises 8,000 ceramics, 75,000 manuscripts, and paintings including works by Stubbs and Reynolds. These were brought together by the Wedgwood company as a museum in 1906.

The museum’s £10.5m building on the factory site at Barlaston was opened in October 2008, partly funded with a £5.9m grant from the HLF. After the Waterford Wedgwood company went into administration, the factory was sold to a New York equity firm, KPS Capital Partners, and it continues to operate.

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