The National Railway Museum is being pressed to hold an inquiry after a Yorkshire Post investigation found the husband of a high-profile curator received in excess of £25,000 for work which included painting a train engine due to be named after his wife.
Adrian Ashby, the husband of Helen Ashby OBE, was also given a contract to work on restoring the world-famous Flying Scotsman for which the York-based museum (NRM) can find no supporting paperwork, and received contracts without competition from other suppliers.
In addition, Mr Ashby was paid nearly £16,000 largely to drive an engine during the museum’s acclaimed production of The Railway Children, including £9,300 for trips to Canada when the play crossed the Atlantic last year.
The NRM insisted all its commercial relationships with Mr Ashby, a painter and decorator by trade, are legitimate.
But Prospect, a trade union representing staff at the NRM, has called for an inquiry by museum’s trustees given the status of Mrs Ashby, NRM head of knowledge and collections who was awarded an OBE last year for her work.
The NRM said contracts obtained by Mr Ashby in the absence of alternative quotes were down to his short-notice availability. It has not offered an explanation for being unable to find supporting paperwork for the Flying Scotsman contract.
The publicly-funded museum said Mrs Ashby has fully recorded her interests from 2003 but was only able to provide Mrs Ashby’s formal declaration of interests from 2012/13 and 2011/12, plus a June 2009 handwritten note from Mrs Ashby specifically drawing the museum’s attention to her husband’s contracts.
It denied the note was connected to the September 2009 dismissal of the acting director of the Science Museum Group (SMG), Molly Jackson, after she failed to declare a personal interest in a proposed deal to supply clothing. The SMG is the umbrella body with ultimate responsibility for several museums – including the NRM – which said the timing of the note was coincidental.
The museum said Mrs Ashby had no direct involvement with any decision to provide work to her husband.
Between mid- 2010 and March this year, Mr Ashby received £24,150 from the museum. In the previous two years, he received £2,670.
The largest contract Mr Ashby won was for £2,500 this March, for painting an engine due to be named after his wife.
The NRM said the naming decision was coincidental.
Andy Bye, negotiations officer for the Prospect union, said: “Given the information obtained by the Yorkshire Post, there ought to be an inquiry led by the trustees to ensure public money is being spent correctly and fairly.
“No one should be given an advantage in the public sector and the trustees need to be sure there has been equality of opportunity in relation to all the work provided to Mr Ashby.”
NRM director Steve Davies said: “Helen Ashby... is known for her high moral values, public spiritedness and altruistic love of this museum.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she has followed our code of conduct both to the letter and in the spirit.”
Mrs Ashby did not comment.