Written evidence submitted by Renaissance
East Midlands (arts 158)
The level of public subsidy that sustains
many museum services is barely sufficient and cuts will put the
social and economic benefits that their work brings at risk.
The partnership between local authority and voluntary sector museums
is hugely positive. Cuts to central and local government funding
put this success and our heritage at risk. National Lottery
funds are extremely valuable, but they are not, at this time,
as critical as the need for a reasonable level of revenue funding.
Businesses and philanthropists have a
part to play in a mixed economy but are unlikely to replace government
The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
(MLA) manages many programmes, including the Accreditation Scheme
and Renaissance, which are of great value to the museums' sector
and the impact of MLA's abolition will depend on how its activities
are maintained and supported in the future.
This response is submitted by Simon Davies,
Regional Accreditation Officer for Renaissance East Midlands.
It focuses on the possible impact of recent and future spending
cuts from central and local Government on heritage in museums
at a local level. It draws on both my current work and twenty
five years of experience working for independent, national and
local authority museums and regional agencies. I have been involved
in the development of the Registration/Accreditation Scheme at
several points in my career and the value of Accreditation, which
I assume in my remarks, is justified in point 3 below.
2. MAIN POINTS
2.1 The impact of recent local authority
spending cuts on museums in the East Midlands has already been
significant. During the first six months of 2010 13% (6 out of
45) of Accredited local authority museums or galleries were threatened
by cuts so severe that they put at risk their ability to remain
within the national standard.
2.1.1 I have had to contact three local authorities
to inform them that cuts being proposed would put at risk the
Accredited status of their museums and one site has been closed
to the public. In all these cases the cuts were eventually limited
to either 50% of professional staff or 50% of sites open to the
public, enabling the authorities to continue to provide an Accredited
Museum service. A further three Accredited Museums are under threat
of closure if local community groups cannot take them over and
the timetables proposed do not facilitate such a transfer, making
it likely that at least two of these services will cease to operate
to the Accreditation Standard if they do not close completely.
2.1.2 Between 2003 and 2008 I was manager of a small
local authority museum service and Chair of the Group of Small
Local Authority Museums. I am therefore well aware of the constant
stress of managing a service whose budget is not quite adequate
to meet even minimum standards and the pressure that constant
"fire-fighting" puts on visitor services, collections
and staff. Two of the museums mentioned in 2.1.1 above were small
local authority services and in both cases their professional
staff made considerable personal sacrifices in order to enhance
the chance that the collections in their care would survive.
2.2 The impact of future central and local
government spending looks set to be even more substantial and
is likely to effect the great majority of the Region's museums.
2.2.1 The reduction of central government funding
for Renaissance would have a considerable impact upon all the
museums in the East Midlands. In addition to the direct impact
on the larger services that are part of the hub, Renaissance supports
collections access assistants that provide vital support to voluntary
sector museums in their area. 55% of Curatorial Advisers (see
2.2.5 below) are also employed by Renaissance East Midlands services.
2.2.2 Renaissance funding also underpins the
Museum Development Network, which supports smaller local authority,
independent and National Trust museums both directly and through
county networks. Museum Development Officers (MDOs) in the East
Midlands support an estimated 8,000 volunteers whose work provides
a rural cultural offer, supports tourism, and brings social and
economic benefits to their communities with a sense of place and
local pride. These volunteers serve at least 2 million visitors
per annum. One measure of the success of the MDOs in supporting
voluntary and independent museums is that 69 such museums have
either reached the point of applying for Accreditation, or are
likely to do so over the next three years.
2.2.3 The effect of the first local authority
spending cuts referred to in 2.1.1 above is an indication of the
probable impact of the full 25% cuts in the future. Many small
services have been hovering at breaking point (see 2.1.2 above)
for some years and as non-statutory services, many will be asked
to find cuts above 25%. This will make some services unsustainable
and I am certain that we shall see further closures.
2.2.4 The effect of local authority spending
cuts on independent museums in the East Midlands is not yet clear.
However many such museums benefit from annual grants and other
support (such as beneficial leases) from their local authorities
and if such modest, but often essential support, is withdrawn
it will, in some cases, have an impact out of all proportion to
the size of the cut (see 2.3.2 for an example).
2.2.5 29 of the 38 independent museums in the
East Midlands that are part of the Accreditation Scheme require
professional advice from a Curatorial Adviser. 18 of these are
advised by staff working for services within Renaissance East
Midlands and may therefore be affected by any reduction in Renaissance
funding. The remaining 11 may be affected as local authority staffing
levels are reduced, leading to the loss of posts and greater pressures
on the time of remaining staff. This comes at a time when, thanks
to the success of the MDOs, a considerable number of independent
museums have developed to the point where they are preparing to
apply for Accreditation. As many as 72 museums could join the
Scheme over the next three years, of which only eleven employ
their own professional staff. Although it is unlikely that more
that sixty will actually apply, this would still create a substantial
increase in the demand for advisors that would be difficult to
supply even if the numbers of professionals in the Region were
2.3 What level of public subsidy for heritage
is necessary and sustainable. I do not have comprehensive data
in this area, but I believe the following examples demonstrate
some of the issues that should be considered.
2.3.1 One of the burdens carried by the local
authority museum sector is the care of the archaeological archives
created by our planning framework. Occasional finds such as the
Staffordshire horde are outnumbered by many less dramatic archives
that may tell us a great deal about our past, but are not necessarily
needed for exhibitions or other direct public functions (ie only
one or two examples are needed to illustrate the story that an
archive tells). Similarly, collections of more recent material
are essential if the story of "ordinary" people and
communities is to survive. However the unglamorous business of
preserving and providing access to these collections requires
revenue funding that few businesses or philanthropists are likely
to regard as a competitive opportunity.
2.3.2 Regarding the voluntary sector, I advise
a small independent town museum that raises the majority of it's
average annual expenditure of £8,000 from it's users and
supporters, however the £1,000 to £1,250 per annum that
it receives from its local authorities pays for an annual temporary
exhibition that is both the linchpin of its public services and
a great inspiration to the Museum's volunteers. A significant
reduction in this funding would be likely, in the long term, to
have a substantial impact upon the Museum's ability to attract
both visitors and volunteers.
2.4 The impact of the planned abolition of the
Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) will depend upon
how MLA's work is taken up by other bodies.
2.4.1 The Museum Accreditation Scheme, the Renaissance
Programme, Strategic Commissioning and the Portable Antiquities
Scheme are only some of the work programmes managed by MLA that
are highly valued by the museums sector because they have helped
us to deliver substantial improvements to services to the public.
Maintaining a significant measure of the benefits of these programmes
is vital to the health of the heritage in museums.
2.4.2 The creation of a strategic body for museums,
libraries and archives has created many opportunities, but it
has also caused problems. MLA has not always been able to recognise
difference as well as it can recognise correspondence and this
has had consequences. Some local authorities, for example, have
used the MLA title as justification for the use of librarians
as curators and vice versa, leading to inefficiency and an inevitable
decline in the morale of professionals required to work as amateurs.
A new or revised body covering MLA's brief and others will need
to work hard if it is to be able to support all of its sectors
with equivalent force and competence.
I have presented evidence that recent and future
spending cuts from central and local Government are likely to
have a significant impact on our heritage.
3.1 The level of public subsidy that sustains
many museum services is barely sufficient to preserve the collections
that they hold and cuts will put the social and economic benefits
that their work brings at risk.
3.2 The partnership between local authority
and voluntary sector museums, supported by central government
funding, most recently through Renaissance, and the Accreditation
Scheme has been hugely positive. Threats to both central and local
government funding put this success and our heritage at risk.
3.3 Although National Lottery funds are
extremely valuable they are not, at this time, as critical as
the need for a reasonable level of revenue funding.
3.4 Similarly, although businesses and philanthropists
have a part to play in a mixed economy, they are unlikely to replace
local authority and central government revenue funding, whatever
incentives may be introduced to encourage more private donations.
3.5 The Museums, Libraries and Archives
Council (MLA) manages many programmes, including the Accreditation
Scheme and Renaissance, which are of great value to the museums'
sector and the impact of MLA's abolition will depend on how its
activities are maintained and supported in the future.
4. APPENDIX: THE
4.1 Accreditation is a holistic guide to museum
management that encourages organisations to question and improve
the services that they provide to visitors and other users. It
achieves this by:
encouraging museums to reach national
standards in museum management, user services, visitor facilities
and collections care;
providing a framework for the development
of core policy and planning documents;
ensuring that small museums without professional
staff receive professional advice from a Curatorial Adviser;
offering a shared ethical basis for all
bodies that meet the definition of a museum;
giving increased credibility and profile
to the governing body; and
providing staff (including volunteers)
with a sense of achievement at meeting the national standard with
corresponding benefits for morale, confidence and ambition.
4.2 Accreditation also assists museums'
providing a benchmark for grant-making
bodies, sponsors and donors;
fostering public confidence in museums
as bodies that hold collections in trust for society and which
manage public resources responsibly, for both present and future
providing potential lenders with evidence
that a museum can care for items loaned to it.