An irreplaceable and historic Staffordshire pottery collection can be sold off to help plug a £134 million pension deficit, the High Court has ruled.
Judges in Birmingham ruled that a world famous pottery collection owned by the Wedgwood Museum Trust was an asset of the Wedgwood company that went bust in 2009 and that administrators could now sell it off to pay creditors - the largest being the Pension Protection Fund.
The trustees of the museum had tried to argue that the collection held trust status but the judges disagreed. Just five of the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan’s 7,000-member scheme were employees of the Museum Trust when the Wedgwood companies became insolvent.
Administrators from the Stoke-on-Trent office of Begbies Traynor had sought the ruling in order to determine the future of the collection.
Bob Young and Steve Currie were appointed joint administrators of the Wedgwood Museum Trust in April 2010, and have since been seeking the direction of the court to determine the future the Barlaston venue’s 10,000 piece collection.
Mr Young said: “We made an application to the High Court as we wanted the judge to clarify for us whether the collection is an asset of the company or not, so as to establish whether we can or cannot sell it for the general benefit of creditors.
“Or whether the assets can remain in trust. The legal advice we obtained was not clear on this point.”
Mr Young said that now the court had ruled that the collection is not held by the Museum in trust, so the assets were available to be sold by the administrators.
He said that while the administrators have to raise money to the value of the collection for distribution to creditors, they would try to do this without selling the collection, perhaps by means of a Creditors’ Voluntary Arrangement over three years, or the sale to benefactors who would allow the collection to remain where it is.
“We are disappointed for the trustees of the Museum who have worked so hard to adduce evidence of the trust status of the collection,” he said.
“This is not necessarily the end of the road for the collection or the museum as we are exploring other options to raise money to keep the collection in situ.
“We have already held discussions with the Heritage Lottery Fund, the V&A Museum, certain members of the Wedgwood family and other potential benefactors about raising funds...
“The principal creditor, the Pension Protection Fund, has already indicated that it is prepared to consider alternative proposals and allow time for fund raising.
“We will spend the next few months in intensive discussions with potential benefactors and the museum trustees to try to come up with a proposal that is acceptable to creditors.”
He stressed that the company and the collection would continue with the protection of administration for the time being and that there were no immediate plans to close the Museum which continues to be open to the general public.