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The Treasury-commissioned independent review, conducted by former Art Fund chairman Sir Nicholas Goodison, proposes a series of tax breaks, grant increases and administrative changes that should give museums a better chance of acquiring outstanding works of art without damaging the art and antiques trade. He estimates the scheme will cost about £30m a year.

Key proposals include:
• new tax reliefs to tempt owners to donate works of pre-eminent importance to public collections during their lifetime;

• changes to allow executors to offer objects to offset a range of tax liabilities, not just inheritance tax;

• a new one-stop shop of expertise for museums and owners to get impartial advice and guidance on buying and selling works of art;

• raising the annual grant to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which helps pay for institutional acquisitions of this type, from £5m to £20m (it was £12m when the Fund was launched).

British Art Market Federation chairman Anthony Browne, who was on the advisory panel helping Sir Nicholas, broadly welcomed the proposals. “Sir Nicholas has taken a very realistic approach towards the art market; in particular, he has clearly understood that the way to help museums is not to restrict sales (by notification or pre-emption) as happens in other countries.”

Sir Nicholas, who submitted his review to the Treasury at the end of November, drew up his proposals after extensive consultation with experts from many interested walks of life, including the art and antiques trade. He also conducted detailed studies of the policies of other countries.

His recommendations form two broad types: those that could be set in motion immediately and others that would require budgetary and spending reviews by the Government. Sir Nicholas was hopeful of at least some progress being announced in the spring Budget.

Reaction from a number of owners of relevant art works has proved positive, says Sir Nicholas.

He stressed that works really did have to be of pre-eminent quality, but this did not necessarily mean that they had to have a high monetary value. He also considered one of the most important proposals was one which would allow those with works of such a high value that they could not offset the tax benefit in a single year – as they must do now – to offset it over a number of years. This would encourage the release of some of the outstanding works which at the moment are effectively locked out of the system.

It now remains to be seen how far Sir Nicholas’s raft of recommendations will impress the Treasury.