Wasting Monet? Local authority artworks 2024

Museums, galleries and libraries are often publicly owned and under the control of their local authority. This means that local authorities are in possession of significant amounts of art. This can include artwork of a substantial value. 

But local authorities’ art ownership is not restricted to libraries and museums. Many councils have expensive pieces of art on council premises that are not on public display and are instead kept behind closed doors or in storage.

At a time when a number of councils are issuing section 114 notices, declaring effective bankruptcy, and many councils are increasing council tax due to complaints about lack of funds, it is important that councils assess what they do and do not need to hold on to. Local authorities must ensure taxpayers’ money is being used as effectively as possible on their residents’ priorities.

This note shows the total amount of artwork owned by local authorities in the UK, the proportion of which is on public display and the value of these collections.




Key findings

  • Local authorities in the UK own at least 1,854,518 pieces of art. The average council collection has 6,265 pieces of artwork in it.
  • This artwork is worth almost £1.5 billion. The average value of a council’s artwork collection is more than £8.7 million.
  • On average only 28 per cent of the art owned by local authorities is currently on public display.
  • Between 2020-21 and 2022-23 Wakefield council acquired the most artwork with 213 pieces of art added over the period.[1] Only 3.1 per cent of their artwork is currently on display.
  • The council with the largest collection of artwork was County Durham with 500,000 items. However, this authority was unable to provide the value of their collection.
  • The highest value art collection was held by Manchester city council, being valued for insurance purposes at £383 million. Only 3.3 per cent of its collection is on display.
  • 12 local authorities did not display any of the artworks they owned. These included: Chesterfield; Folkestone and Hythe; Hinckley and Bosworth; Huntingdonshire; North Northamptonshire; Rochdale; Rochford; South Ribble; Stafford; Tendring; Three Rivers; and Wrexham.




[1] The Hepworth Wakefield manages Wakefield’s fine art collection and all artworks added to the collection in the three

financial years were purchased through fundraising or were gifted by individuals and benefactors. Local authority money

was not used in purchasing the artworks.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience.  More info. Okay