Just 400 of Hartlepool’s 3,100 artworks are on show – and in total they’re worth £14m

Hartlepool Art Gallery.
Hartlepool Art Gallery.
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Almost £14m of artworks are owned by Hartlepool Borough Council - but less than a sixth of them are on display to the public, figures out today show.

Research by the TaxPayers’ Alliance has discovered the council currently 
possesses £13,819,050 of historical items such as paintings, sculptures and furniture.

At a time when we’re making necessary savings, it is only reasonable to ask whether some of the recent purchases represent value for taxpayers’ money

But, of the 3,100 items, just 400, which is 13%, are on display to the public in venues such as the town’s art gallery and museum.

In comparison to the town, Middlesbrough has £172,000 of pieces, Darlington has £750,000 and Sunderland £9m of artworks.

The TaxPayers’ Alliance is now calling on the council to “make an effort” to put the items on show or look at selling some of the pieces to help with the running of services.

But the council says that artworks are “regularly rotated” to keep exhibitions “dynamic”.

A spokesman added that because many of the works were bequeathed to the council, it would be unable to sell them even if wanted to.

Conservative councillor Ray Martin-Wells told the Mail that if items are not being shown then the possibility of them being sold off could be a solution.

“We are in times of necessary cutbacks and if we have artworks which are not intended to go in display then the Conservative group would not be against looking at the possibility of disposal,” said Coun Martin-Wells.

“However, if it’s a case of rotating stock then it would be short-sighted to dispose of artwork which is owned by the people of the town.”

The Government’s art collection consists of millions of individuals items, totalling more than £3.5billion in value across central and local government, but only 3% of it art is on display.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “No-one is proposing a wholesale sell-off of art owned by the Government, but nonetheless the scale of the collection is staggering.

“Public bodies and local authorities should make an effort to display more of their art for people to enjoy, and they also need to take a good hard look at their art portfolio and think about what does and does not need to be retained.

“At a time when we’re making necessary savings, it is only reasonable to ask whether some of the recent purchases represent value for taxpayers’ money.”

The figures were uncovered in a Freedom of Information request.

A Hartlepool Borough Council spokesman said: “At nearly all galleries the artworks on display are just a fraction of the overall collection.

“As room is limited, we regularly rotate items on display so that the collection is always dynamic and changing.

“It is good to change and refresh collections to avoid people thinking they have seen it all.

“The town’s visitor numbers continue to increase and recent figures from the Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Monitor – which assesses the impact of tourism around the country – show that tourism generated £142.9million in Hartlepool in 2013 – 21% more than in 2009.

“A significant proportion of our art collection has been bequeathed to Hartlepool Borough Council which prevents us from selling it, even if we wanted to.”