The Treasury Minister has pointed the finger at the Crown as she was grilled over why the Government agreed an "inflated" £4.25m fee for the Le Câtillon II coin hoard against official advice.
Announced in December, the payment was more than double the value recommended by a team of respected British Museum-based experts who act as official advisers on treasure finds in the UK - but, according to Deputy Pinel, the Crown "would not accept" a lower offer.
This was despite protestations from senior civil servants, who maintained that a £2m valuation by the UK Government’s Treasure Valuation Committee (TVC) made in 2017 was the appropriate sum to pay, and Jersey Heritage, who said paying more could “endanger future acquisitions by setting a precedent for inflated valuations.”
Since then, British archaeologists have raised concerns that the effects of Jersey's decision could ripple across the water, affecting museums' ability to keep important historic finds in public ownership.
Researcher Andy Brockman, who edits The Pipeline, an investigative publication exploring the intersection between archaeology, money and politics, told the Bailiwick Podcast that it was highly unusual for the TVC's ruling to be challenged. Jersey’s handling of Le Catillon II “sets a precedent" for both challenging the valuations, and "for the amount by which a challenge might be successful", he argued.
Grilled over the controversial payment by Senator Tracey Vallois during a Scrutiny hearing yesterday, Deputy Pinel said the Crown “wouldn’t accept just one valuation”. The result was that, in addition to the TVC, two counter-valuations of around £6m from commercial dealers, Chris Rudd Ltd and CGB Numismatique, were also put forward.
Pictured: Deputy Susie Pinel, the Minister Treasury and Resources.
She said the situation had been like a “tap on the shoulder” that the island needs to look closely at its legislation around 'treasure'.
Deputy Pinel also blamed the Crown for playing a part in the delay.
“A lot of the hold-up was caused by the finders, that includes the landowners and the actual finders of the coins, and also the Crown,” she said. “It was not necessarily in Jersey’s hands to cause this length of delay.”
The Minister suggested that the Government had been forced not only to conclude the matter because the delay was “not doing Jersey’s reputation any good”, but also to agree to a higher fee because the Crown wouldn’t agree “on just one valuation”.
“To cut a very long and elaborate story short, [the Government] went with the middle [valuation] on the basis that the Crown would not accept the lower one,” she said.
Later on in the hearing, she added: “There was not a huge amount of choice in it as it had been going on for now over 10 years, the finders were due their recompense, although I don’t think a specific allocation has been determined from the receipt of the money, so it drags on again hopefully to be dealt with by the end of the year.”
It has, however, been decided that £250,000 of the sum will be put into a trust for the protection and promotion of the hoard.
Pictured: Deputy Pinel suggested the Government had been forced to go for a higher fee.
Following further questions from Senator Vallois, Deputy Pinel said: “We had to move with it, it was not with the agreement of some of the accounting officers. Jersey Heritage thought we should go with the lower valuation and some of the media comeback from that has been that, by setting this standard - which was not ours, it was the Crown’s - we might have jeopardised future collection sales.
"But the higher value one would have only been achieved had the collection been split up and sold in separate pieces rather than kept together, this was the only way we would keep the collection together for the island and keep it in one piece.”
Deputy Pinel said the decision to seek a second valuation, after the TVC had put forward its suggestion, was pushed by the Crown.
She also agreed with Senator Vallois’ suggestion that new legislation should be put in place or changes brought to the Public Finances Law manual to avoid any “valuation wars”, although she rejected the view the situation with the coin hoard could be described as such.
“It’s a good idea because it’s quite clear we realised this was completely out of our hands,” she said. “There’s a huge amount of information there in order to go forward and hopefully bring some legislation forward.”
She then repeated: “It was out of our hands - it was the Crown who wanted another valuation but, yes, as you quite rightly said, it must be on the balance of this experience we can bring forward some advice, instructions to the Finance Law or legislation that stands on its own on treasure trove.”
Agreements over the exact value of the hoard rumbled on in the background for many years.
Following the announcement of agreed payment of £4.25m, Jersey Heritage - the Government-funded body that has painstakingly curated the hoard and is displaying it at La Hougue Bie - expressed concerns.
Pictured: Jersey Heritage displays the Coin Hoard at la Hougue Bie. (Chris Brookes)
The organisation's Chair, Tim Brown, said the charity was worried that the ultimate price paid was “so far adrift from expert advice from the UK’s highly-regarded Treasure Valuation Committee”.
“Such a conclusion could have a detrimental impact on Jersey reputation and endanger future acquisitions by setting a precedent for inflated valuations,” he said.
The charity’s concerns were echoed by archaeologist Matt Pope, who has worked extensively on the Neanderthal site at La Cotte in St. Brelade. He described the rejection of the Treasure Valuation Committee recommendation as “perplexing” and the decision to go for a higher fee as “counter-productive”.
“Outcomes like this aren’t good for Jersey or the wider heritage community, it puts too much focus on the monetary value of ‘treasure’ and detracts from us celebrating and responsibly protecting Jersey’s past,” he argued.
Senior civil servants also raised concerns about the £4.25m settlement, so much so that the Director General with accounting responsibility, Richard Corrigan of the Economy Department, asked for a 'letter of instruction' from ministers – a formal way of saying that the officer is not prepared to take legal responsibility for their decision.
In his letter to the Chief and Deputy Chief Minister, he wrote: “In this matter – and after careful reflections – I feel unable to fulfil those legal responsibilities and seek your instruction to complete the purchase on the basis resolved by the Council of Ministers [the £4.25m sum]."
Meanwhile interim civil service head Paul Martin, the Government’s Principal Accounting Officer, said: “The interests of the public purse are served by a strictly commercial negotiation in which the Government’s focus is wholly on the interests of taxpayers and that does not exceed a reasonable and defensible valuation.
“I am also influenced by a meeting with the Chair and Chief Executive of Jersey Heritage and representations made by them to the Government.
“Finally, I am mindful of the risk of precedent being formed here. I therefore support the conclusion of the Accountable Officer.”
In a reply, Senator Le Fondré said he understood Mr Corrigan’s position but “formally instructs” him to proceed with the purchase.
The Chief Minister explained that, in the absence of any Jersey treasure legislation, the negotiations followed a code set out in the UK’s Treasure Trove Act, which allows more than one valuation to be commissioned.
He says: “It was therefore appropriate, fair and in accordance with natural justice that the finders were given the opportunity to submit the Chris Rudd Limited valuation in this case, which valued the hoard at almost £6.1m.”
Archaeologist, researcher and investigative journalist, Pipeline Editor Andy Brockman discusses the issues Jersey's decision may have created with Express...
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