Un­wrap­ping our gifts

Hav­ing ac­cepted no fewer than 13 gifts to the na­tion of out­stand­ing works in 2015–16, the Cul­tural Gifts Scheme has come of age. Michael Hall re­views its growth since it be­gan in 2013 and high­lights some of its re­cent suc­cesses

Country Life Every Week - - Focus On The Visual Arts -

FOR the past 25 years, stu­dents study­ing his­tory of art at Univer­sity Col­lege Lon­don (UCL) have been the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of a re­mark­able teach­ing aid in the form of 610 po­lit­i­cal car­i­ca­tures and other prints made in the 18th and 19th cen­turies. As well as works by Hog­a­rth, Gill­ray (Fig 3), Row­land­son and Dau­mier, there is a fine group of French revo­lu­tion­ary car­i­ca­tures. Put to­gether out of his own pocket by David Bind­man, Emer­i­tus Durn­ing-lawrence Pro­fes­sor of the His­tory of Art, the prints were lent to the col­lege’s Art Mu­seum, where they have been used for ex­hi­bi­tions as well as classes.

Last year, it was an­nounced that UCL had ac­quired the en­tire col­lec­tion, af­ter Prof Bind­man had of­fered it to the na­tion through the Gov­ern­ment’s Cul­tural Gifts Scheme (CGS), in which donors are of­fered a tax re­duc­tion in re­turn for im­por­tant works of art and other cul­tural ob­jects. These prints are just one of the as­ton­ish­ingly var­ied gifts made last year un­der the scheme, which, in the four years since it was opened, has be­come an out­stand­ingly im­por­tant source of ac­qui­si­tions for our mu­se­ums, gal­leries and his­toric houses.

Al­though only re­cently es­tab­lished, the idea of CGS goes back a long way. For many years, it has been pos­si­ble to of­fer im­por­tant works in lieu of cap­i­tal taxes through the ‘Ac­cep­tance in Lieu’ (AIL) scheme. AIL en­ables tax­pay­ers to trans­fer such works into public own­er­ship while pay­ing In­her­i­tance Tax (or one of its ear­lier forms). In al­most all cases, there­fore, the of­fer takes place af­ter a death. In other coun­tries, no­tably the USA and Aus­tralia, sim­i­lar tax con­ces­sions are of­fered for life­time gifts and there was long-stand­ing pres­sure in the UK for such a scheme to be ini­ti­ated here.

In 2003, the Trea­sury com­mis­sioned Sir Ni­cholas Good­i­son to write a re­view on how the sys­tem of gov­ern­ment sup­port for pri­vate giv­ing to mu­se­ums might be im­proved. Pub­lished in 2004, the re­view rec­om­mended, among much else, the in­tro­duc­tion of a tax con­ces­sion for life­time gifts. The re­sult was a deaf­en­ing si­lence. The Trea­sury never made a for­mal re­sponse to the re­view and, at least once a year, COUN­TRY LIFE pub­lished an edi­to­rial or an ar­ti­cle de­mand­ing to know why this rec­om­men­da­tion hadn’t yet been im­ple­mented.

In the end, we had to wait un­til the Bud­get of 2012 for Ge­orge Os­borne to un­veil CGS, which opened for busi­ness in March 2013. Al­most at once, it grabbed the head­lines, with the gift from Hunter Davies of let­ters and lyrics by John Len­non, which were ac­quired by the Bri­tish Li­brary. Since then, the num­ber of gifts has al­most dou­bled ev­ery year. In 2015–16, 13 of­fers were ac­cepted and al­lo­cated to mu­se­ums and gal­leries all over the coun­try.

How does CGS work? It al­lows in­di­vid­u­als to set 30% of the value of a ‘pre-em­i­nent’ work against ei­ther In­come Tax or Cap­i­tal Gains Tax. If the value of the tax re­duc­tion gen­er­ated by the gift ex­ceeds the tax li­a­bil­ity in any one year, the re­duc­tion can be spread over up to five years. The fac­tors that are taken into con­sid­er­a­tion in de­cid­ing whether or not an item is ‘pre-em­i­nent’ are the close­ness of its as­so­ci­a­tion with our his­tory and na­tional life; its level of artis­tic or art-his­tor­i­cal in­ter­est; its im­por­tance for the study of some par­tic­u­lar form of art, learn­ing or his­tory; or the close­ness of its as­so­ci­a­tion with a par­tic­u­lar his­toric set­ting. If the ob­ject is judged pre-em­i­nent on one of these four cri­te­ria, it can qual­ify for the scheme.

This ap­proach to the ques­tion of ‘pre­em­i­nence’ is taken from AIL and the two schemes, which are both ad­min­is­tered by the Arts Coun­cil, run in par­al­lel. Of­fers un­der both are as­sessed by the same panel, cur­rently chaired by Ed­ward Har­ley, which makes its rec­om­men­da­tions to the Sec­re­tary of State for Cul­ture, Me­dia and Sport and min­is­ters in the de­volved na­tions. The schemes have a sin­gle bud­get: in any one year, the amount of tax that may be writ­ten off un­der AIL

Fig 2: A sil­ver ma­trix of the Great Seal of Queen Vic­to­ria, set into a dish made by Elk­ing­ton in Bris­tol in 1878, as a gift from the Queen to the Lord Chan­cel­lor, the 1st Earl Cairns. The 6th Earl Cairns has given it to the na­tion through the Cul­tural Gifts Scheme

Fig 1: A mid-16th-cen­tury gilt­bronze writ­ing cas­ket at­trib­uted to the Grandi work­shop in Padua. Now in the Ash­molean Mu­seum, Ox­ford, it was given by Daniel Katz Ltd and was the first of­fer un­der the Cul­tural Gifts Scheme from a com­pany

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