Bury St Edmunds councillor warns ‘don’t flog family silver’

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A councillor has hit out at suggestions the borough could sell ‘the family jewels’ to pocket some much-needed cash.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s heritage assets, which are grouped into four classes - fine art and decorative, horology, civic regalia and other items under £5,000 - have recently been valued at £7.268 million.

Cllr Paul Hopfensperger said he was upset by councillors’ suggestions the borough should ‘flog’ its treasures or auction them off to reduce its budget deficit.

He said some of the assets had been bequeathed to the borough and as such were ‘not ours to give away’.

“It’s not the cost, it’s the value as part of our heritage,” he said. “When someone suffers hard times, you don’t go and sell all your jewels because then you’re left with nothing. The borough needs to be run more like a business.”

Cllr David Nettleton said he thought the idea should have been put to the public as part of the current cost-saving consultation.

He said: “We should ask if people want to sell them off. We should also ask ‘do you want to continue the mayoralty’.”

A council spokeswoman said: “Over hundreds of years people have given items (some of considerable value) to the borough, or the council has acquired some with specific local interest. In most cases we are not free to sell them, often because that was a condition when they were donated. And even if we did, the rules on how public money is spent means we are not allowed to use the income to run services.”

She said it was not possible to display everything at once but ‘as much as possible’ was available for public viewing and researching specialists or students were regularly provided access to them.

Cllr Sarah Stamp, cabinet member responsible for heritage, said: “As well as not being able to use any sale money for everyday services, it is important to remember that these items – whether a valuable painting, piece of ceremonial silver or simply a stuffed owl or ancient bicycle – are part of our borough’s heritage and we would all be poorer, not just in financial terms, if we got rid of them.

“This isn’t ‘cash in the attic’ – we have a duty to our past and our future generations to preserve who we, in St Edmundsbury, are and what we value.

“Selling off the family silver doesn’t solve anything because we need year-on-year savings, not one-off pots of money, which is why we are asking residents to give us views on a range of options.”