Sunday, 4 April 2010

Wedgwood Museum at Risk

After the sad events of last year, the bankruptcy of the Wedgwood Company and the purchase of the trademarks by unscrupulous private equity outfit KPS, many of us were, at least consoled, despite the ultimate failure of our "Save Wedgwood Campaign" that the Wedgwood Museum, with its priceless collection of Wedgwood and its archive of Wedgwood family documents stretching back to the thirteenth century was safe. The award winning Museum (founded in 1906) was transferred to an independent company in the 1960s.

However, as reported by the BBC and others in the last few days, it has not escaped the financial mess that the O'Reilly family drove Waterford Wedgwood plc to. The pension liabilities for former Wedgwood workers were not taken on by KPS – the Museum staff are party to shared pension arrangements and the Museum, a charitable Trust has now been handled a bill for £130,000,000.

The BBC have reported:

The Wedgwood Museum has been served with a letter transferring a £130m pension debt from the collapsed pottery maker.

Waterford Wedgwood Plc went into administration in January last year with a pension fund shortfall.

The museum in Stoke-on-Trent is a trust and is separate from the pottery firm, but linked by a shared pension fund.

Chair of the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan, Chris Johnson, said the notice was served "with very great regret". The government's Pension Protection Fund administrators say as the museum remains in operation, taxpayers can be protected by recouping losses from the trust.

Mr Johnson said legal advice given to trustees is that the trust can be held liable for the pension debt.

But the trust is considering a legal challenge to the notice, and says selling off the collection would not mean "an extra penny" to pensioners.

The museum charts 250 years of British social, design and industrial history via the Wedgwood products ranges.
In June last year museum staff were celebrating after winning a £100,000 Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries.
But now they face having the collection, some of which is described as "priceless", being sold-off.

Pension trustees say they have to serve the museum with the debt to benefit from the Pension Protection Fund.

Mr Johnson said: "I have been a Wedgwood man forever, and I'm passionate about its history and treasure."But we have to obey the law and obey due process."

The museum has been displaying its exhibits since 1906 and became a trust in 1962.

Trust chairman George Stonier said: "We are absolutely determined to do everything we can to preserve our museum."

I have every sympathy with the company's pensioners – many of whom will have, as shareholders, like me, lost money already. However the Wedgwood collection is part of our country's heritage and must not be dispersed. North Staffordshire has lost so much already – the Government did not back the family's attempt to save Wedgwood – they must act this time.

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