A museums agency has threatened to remove Moray Council from a funding stream if it presses ahead with an “unethical” sale of artefacts.
Yesterday, councillors approved steps to approach an auction house to evaluate some of the most significant items in the collections.
However, prior to the meeting, Joanne Orr, chief executive of Museums Galleries Scotland, wrote to the authority to express her “concern and alarm” at the proposals.
Mrs Orr explained it was not appropriate to view the historical pieces as “financial assets” and stressed proceeds must be used solely to benefit the remaining items.
She said: “We recognise that, in the current financial climate, museum governing bodies face very difficult choices in trying to maintain services and that responsibility for managing and caring for collections can be difficult.
“However, we don’t accept unethical sale of museum collections is an effective solution to the greater challenges that museums face.”
In the letter, Mrs Orr threatened to strike the council and the Falconer Museum off an accreditation list for at least five years if a sale went ahead, which would deny access to grant funding.
However, the chief executive also offered to work with the authority to find an “ethical” way to run the service in the long term.
A future report will be prepared with a list of items that have been identified for auction before a decision to proceed with a sale is taken.
As part of the process, the ownership of items will be clarified before they go under the hammer.
The authority has proposed using money raised at a sale as part of the process to transfer the management of the Falconer Museum in Forres to a new trust.
At yesterday’s full council meeting, the council’s head of development services, Jim Grant, argued MGS had “made a lot of assumptions”.
He said: “In the next few years, I will be asked for savings across budgets – museums are no different. We have already reduced the opening of the Falconer Museum to the summer, so that means there are limited options.”
Council leader George Alexander said: “I am as keen as anyone to find a sustainable future for the Falconer Museum, but at the same time, I’m aware of the pressures.
“We have to look at the items we don’t have to look after. We are genuinely trying to find a sustainable way to do that.”