Among the antique assets held by Argyll and Bute Council are paintings worth more than £1m by the celebrated 19th century Scottish landscape artist William McTaggart and nine gold civic chains inherited from the old burgh councils of Argyll.
The chains, which are hidden from the public eye except on the rare ceremonial occasions when one is worn by the Provost, include one from Rothesay that was valued at £75,000 on The Antiques Roadshow several years ago.
As tough budget proposals – including a plan to close 25 primary schools and take away free fruit for primary pupils – go through public consultation, the council is being urged to consider selling off its historic assets.
George McMillan, a former chairman of the old Argyll and Bute District Council, said a museums expert had valued Campbeltown’s historic assets alone at more than £2m. These include the McTaggart paintings and the original charter, signed by King William, declaring Campbeltown as a Royal Burgh in 1700.
There are valuable historic items stored away in other parts of the district, and Mr MacMillan said that while in an ideal world it would be nice to hold on to them, the time had come for the council to consider selling some of its assets.
“There is cash in the attic. There must be millions of pounds sitting in storage,” he said. “There are sabres,
paintings and historical items and some things would be better off sold than sitting in storage.”
Campbeltown councillor Donald Kelly, from the Argyll First party, said he understood that one of the McTaggart paintings, A Westering Gale, had an estimated value of £1m.
Councillor Kelly said: “I want to see frontline services protected and I think the council should be looking at every single avenue of making savings.”
He added: “The bottom line is, do we protect frontline services, or do we protect these artefacts?”
Provost William Petrie said the council’s civic chains should be preserved, adding: “I would say that the Rothesay chain is the finest chain in Scotland. It has gold galleons on it and is studded with fresh pearls, it’s part of the history of the place.
“The chains are kept in various safes but when I wear one of them people come up to me and ask to see the chain. There is a great deal of interest in them, the people like the chains.”
The McTaggart paintings are part of the “Argyll Collection”, inherited by the council from the former Strathclyde Regional Council in 1995-96.
A council spokeswoman said the McTaggart paintings are insured for more than £1m and the chains for £105,000.
She said: “Any sale would produce capital receipts whereas the council needs to make savings on its revenue budgets. The council has no plans to sell off its cultural heritage – heritage that ultimately belongs to the people of Argyll and Bute.”