Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Committee of Area Museums Councils


  (i)  Most of the negative impact of the foot and mouth outbreak on museums will probably ultimately prove to have been caused by confused messages during the early stages of the outbreak.

  (ii)  There is a need for closer joint working between Government Departments on tourism and countryside issues.

  (iii)  It may be timely to re-examine the exact relationships in England between DCMS, Government Offices in the Regions (GOs), the English Tourism Council (ETC), the Regional Tourist Boards (RTBs) and the network of local authority Tourism Information Centres (TICs).

  (iv)  There is a standing need for a coherent information network connecting national, regional and local tourism agencies.

  (v)  The farming community should be more closely involved as key partners in the tourism industry, both as managers of the countryside as well as, increasingly, providers of visitor attractions and accommodation.

  (vi)  In addition to the ETC national campaign, a sustained major campaign of destination marketing is needed at sub-regional and local level.

  (vii)  Local authorities should be encouraged temporarily to relax their rules on tourism sign-posting.

  (viii)  Local Education Authorities should be urgently encouraged to provide up-to-date information to schools about museums, and other educational visitor attractions, that are open for visiting.


  1.  The Committee of Area Museums Councils (AMCs) is a federation of the 10 regional museums agencies in England, and their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It acts as a forum for information-sharing, and for representing the interests and development needs of the non-national museums sector to Government and others.

  2.  From the onset of the current outbreak of foot and mouth disease, the AMCs have been monitoring the impact on museums which, alongside historic houses and other heritage sites, form a key element in the varied mix that attracts tourists to rural areas, and to the UK in general. CAMC is co-ordinating this information nationally to enable comprehensive statistics to be produced detailing the impact on the UK's some 1,800 Registered Museums during the outbreak. An initial assessment is given in the attached annex.

  3.  We have noted that it is not the Select Committee's intention to consider the long-term impact on the tourist industry during its current inquiry, and are therefore confining our comments to a number of general issues relating to the provision of public information and promotion which, from the perspective of the museums sector, appear to have been highlighted by the current outbreak.

  4.  In order to provide some context to this, the attached annex provides a summary of our specific concerns regarding museums. We hope that the Committee will consider undertaking a full inquiry into the long-term implications of the current outbreak, with reference to such evidence, at the appropriate time.

Communication and Structural Issues

  5.  AMCs work in close partnership with their Regional and Country Tourist Boards and have strong interests in common. But they also represent museums as a key constituency within the Tourist Boards' client base, and from this perspective are able to provide an external assessment of the system.

  6.  Many of the problems for museums that arose at the start of the outbreak were due to confused messages from Government Departments and local authorities about the extent to which the countryside as a whole was likely to be affected. This led to precautionary closures, since shown to have been unnecessary, resulting in an immediate overall reduction in countryside visiting. It is very likely that where museums sustain significant financial losses during the year they will largely relate to this initial period of uncertainty.

  7.  It must be asked whether the impact would have been as severe had it been possible for DCMS to have issued its Guidance for Visitor Attractions more speedily: as it was this did not appear until 28 March, more than a month after the first evidence of an epidemic, to be reissued, with revisions, six days later.

  8.  No doubt some of these difficulties relate to the effectiveness of communications between DCMS and other departments—DETR and MAFF in particular. It appears to us, at least in the English context, that the crisis has underlined the fact that despite well-promoted intentions towards an integrated approach to DCMS sectors following the Comprehensive Spending Review of 1997, thinking and practice is not yet fully "joined-up". Indeed, in some areas regional links between tourism and the other DCMS sectors appear to be weaker than they were five years ago.

  9.  We suggest it may be timely to re-examine the exact relationships between DCMS and the Regional Government Offices, the English Tourism Council (ETC), the Regional Tourist Boards (RTBs) and the network of local authority Tourism Information Centres (TICs).

  10.  In England, the ETC and the RTBs have done an excellent job in responding speedily to the problem, but we gather that they have been hard-pressed, both in providing Government with up-to-date intelligence on the impact of the outbreak, and in communicating timely advice to tourism businesses, to the public, and crucially, to the media. We wonder whether the emphasis on strategy in recent years has diverted the resources necessary to maintain effective lines of communication within the tourism sector.

  11.  Given that heritage attractions, and the tourism industry in general, will always be vulnerable to exceptional events requiring the provision of urgent information and remedial action (besides foot and mouth disease, one could cite flooding, rail problems, petrol crises and terrorism as examples that have arisen within the past decade) there would seem to be a standing need for a coherent information network connecting the national and regional agencies and, below them, the grass-roots information provided through TICs. Given the opportunities now provided through electronic networks, there is also scope to extend the provision of such information, for example, through public libraries. It appears that the current level of government support to the RTBs does not provide the capacity to provide this infrastructure.

  12.  The network of 560 TICs in England, which plays such a crucial role at the sub-regional level, is increasingly subject to attrition through financial pressures on local authorities. These pressures are being exacerbated as a result of the Best Value review process, and we understand that it is estimated that a further 200 may be lost over the next few years. We hope that the Select Committee will consider this issue, in particular the adequacy of the ICT infrastructure available to support speedy communication between TICs, and between TICS and RTBs.

  13.  The outbreak has underlined the close interests shared by rural museums and the farming community, many of whom—through diversification—have as close an interest in tourism as in agriculture. As businesses they often share similarities of scale and interests to museums, providing opportunities for joint marketing events and promotion.

  14.  It is now clear that it is no longer possible to confine agricultural policy to food production. Farmers, as managers of the countryside, and providers of attractions and accommodation, must be seen as key partners in the tourism industry. While the DETR's Rural White Paper for England is clearly engaged with this issue, we suggest that recent events have shown that these principles need to be given even higher profile, and reflected in much closer working between MAFF, DETR and DCMS. We understand that moves are afoot to bring MAFF's regional offices in England within the ambit of the Regional Government Offices, and welcome this development.

  15.  We believe that Government recognises and is seeking to address these issues. From the experience of AMCs, which are heavily engaged in rural areas, we believe there is generally close working between MAFF, the Countryside Agency and the Regional Development Agencies, but we believe there would be value in a single co-ordinating body charged with overarching rural policy in a region, within which cultural matters—including tourism— would be a key dimension. Whether the Government Regional Office, or the Regional Development Agency is best suited to take on this role, is a matter of discussion in relation to government policy for the regions.

Practical measures

  16.  The matters referred to above are structural issues. There are also a number of immediate practical measures that can be taken to help restore the balance of rural tourism in rural areas.

  17.  We welcome the recent announcement that ETC is to receive £3.8 million for a national and regional recovery plan for England, but note that this contrasts with an "initial" £5 million provided by the Scottish Executive to the Scottish tourism agency (to include measures to "stabilise the tourism network"), and with ETC's own estimate that over £20 million is required to fund a comprehensive medium and longer term recovery strategy. It is essential that the RTBs in particular are adequately resourced to assist with what marketing and PR actions are determined to be essential and appropriate at the local level.

  18.  In particular, a sustained, vigorous campaign of destination marketing is needed at sub-regional and local level, in particular to target those areas that have been hardest hit. We believe that this will require additional Government funding, reflecting the fact that individual operators and tourism consortia will not have the cash to make any significant financial contribution.

  19.  It would be helpful if, for the duration of 2001, local authorities could be encouraged to relax the rules on tourism sign-posting to enable smaller attractions to have a higher roadside profile for tourists. Temporary signage arrangements might be negotiated in partnership with the AA and RAC.

  20.  School, and other group educational visits to museums have been a significant casualty of the past two months. This represents not only loss of important income to educational visitor attractions such as independent museums, but also a social cost. DfEE should urgently encourage Local Education Authorities to be proactive in providing up-to-date information to schools about museums that are open for visiting.

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