Museums United Kingdom

Proposed scheme for reforming museum deaccessioning

These and other ideas for the reform of deaccessioning will be debated at the National Gallery in London on 10 May 2011

Listing panel

The sector would embark, under the aegis of a panel of expert advisors, on listing important works of art in public collections. Following the planning precedent there would be a facility to “spot list” in emergency circumstances. “Grade I” items would never normally be disposed of outside the sector and “Grade II” only when compelling circumstances were demonstrated. Unlisted items might be sold with minimum formality.

Supervisory committee

A supervisory committee would be established which would report to the Secretary of State with whom ultimate decision-making would reside. The committee would weigh up the arguments for and against deaccession and make recommendations to the Secretary of State. In the event of sale being authorised, prima facie, unless a purchaser within the sector emerged to acquire at market value, disposal would take place on the open market.

Protecting the proceeds

The proceeds of deaccessions would be ring-fenced to ensure they are spent enhancing the collection and not used to plug holes in revenue budgets. This envisages building on existing legislation to require local authorities to establish separate endowment funds to hold proceeds to be applied solely towards the enhancement and expansion of the collection. A similar regime governing independent museums and semi-public bodies which are members of the Museums’ Association would be enshrined in revised ethical guidance. Compliance by bodies falling outside either of these two categories would be secured solely under the new listing code, with statutory penalties being imposed for any infringements.

Pains and penalties

Again, following the planning precedent, these would be introduced to secure compliance with the new listing code. There would be financial and other criminal penalties, combined with additional sanctions involving enforcement action and injunctive relief.

The writers are with Farrer & Co LLP

For more information about the seminar contact Nicky Misquitta, nicky.misquitta [at]

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