Wedgwood museum hit by pension debt black hole

By Jessica Rose
Business reporter, BBC News


Valuable artefacts from the Wedgwood museum in Stoke-on-Trent could be seized by creditors because of a pension fund black hole.

Staffordshire-based pottery firm Waterford Wedgwood went into administration last year, with parts of the business later bought by a US firm.

But it was the Wedgwood Museum Trust that inherited the £134m pension debt of the whole company.

Forced into administration, the trust's exhibits could be claimed by creditors.

Voluntary agreement

The £10.5m Wedgwood Museum in Barlaston opened in 2008 and is home to an exhibition of more than 250 years of the company's history and last year won the prestigious Art Fund Prize.

Five of the museum trust's staff were in the same pension scheme as the employees of the whole pottery company.

As the last solvent entity employing members of the scheme, the museum has been forced to take on the £134m pension debt that was left when Waterford Wedgwood collapsed.

Joint administrator Steve Currie, from Begbies Traynor, said the museum would stay open for the foreseeable future.

"It's a really good museum and we're glad it's still there," he said.

"The question is whether the assets are held in trust by the museum or whether they're available for creditors.

"Once we know the answer to this we can exit administration via some kind of voluntary agreement."

Fighting for survival

The museum's closure would be a big loss for the region's tourist industry, according to Staffordshire historian Steve Birks.

"All that social history would be split up, even though it's taken 250 years to collect," he said.

"It's a shame that the museum got a £1,000 prize last year for being so good, and has now been awarded a £134m debt".

The Trust said it is in talks about preserving its collection and that it is determined to ensure the museum's survival.

"The Trustees are extremely grateful for the continued support of the museum's staff and its many friends, and remain optimistic that the collections will continue to be available to the public in our museum," said George Stonier, chairman.

Wedgwood was founded in 1759, but Waterford Wedgwood was created in 1987 when it merged with the well-known Irish brand Waterford Crystal.

It went into administration in January 2009 after being badly hit by the economic slowdown.

The company also had debts of some £400m and a hole in its pension fund.

A couple of months later the viable parts of the firm were bought by an American private equity firm, KPS Capital Partners, saving many jobs in the company - which was renamed WWRD Holdings.

The Wedgwood Museum is in Wedgwood Drive, Barlaston, Stoke-on-Trent ST12 9ER and is open 9am-5pm Mon-Fri and 10am-5pm Sat & Sun.

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