Memorandum from the Museums Association
The Museums Association is an independent organisation
representing museums and galleries and people who work for them.
The Association has 4,500 individual members, 611 institutional
members, and 131 corporate members. The institutional members
encompass some 1,500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest
national museums to small volunteer-run independent museums. The
Museums Association is a democratic organisation; its governing
Council is elected by the membership. It was founded in 1889 and
is a registered charity. It receives no regular government funding.
The Museums Association only wishes to answer a small number of
the questions posed in the consultation paper. We have a particular
interest in the role of trustees of national museums and also
an interest in the ethnic diversity of DCMS public appointments.
Questions 4 and 6
There is a certain confusion about the role
of trustees of national museums. They seem potentially to fill
three quite distinct roles. First, as people with board-level
skills that can help the museum with strategic and management
issues. Second, as well-connected people able to undertake fundraising
on behalf of the museum. Third, as representatives of museum users.
In addition, there is still a lingering sense that to an extent
trusteeship of a national museum represents some kind of honour.
There is also the possibility that their role is to monitor the
performance of the organisation on behalf of government or the
public at large. These roles are largely incompatible with each
other and currently the confusion about roles has led to a severe
under representation of people able to represent the interests
of museum users.
For several years we have tried to help and
encourage the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to increase
the diversity, particularly the ethnic diversity, of its public
appointments. When we have had discussions with officials and
ministers they have certainly appeared keen to make more appointments
from minority-ethnic communities. However, in practice we fear
that they have not been particularly successful. It is also disappointing
that they have generally failed to act on the advice that we have
given to them on the need to be proactive and take positive action
if they genuinely wish to increase the diversity of public appointments.
We do not believe that DCMS has given this issue the priority
it needs if there is to be a genuine change in the profile of
We do wonder whether many trustees of national
museums actually do have enough time and motivation to do much
to support the museum in practice and to make a long-term commitment
to the institution. On the one hand, paying them for their time
may encourage them to give more commitment. On the other, paying
them a substantial amount may make them regard the position as
part of their employment rather than as public service. One approach
could be to put on employers a requirement that people should
be released for a certain number of days per year to undertake
public appointments and to remunerate the employer for the cost
of covering for employees' absences from the workplace.
There are one or two further points we would
like to make. There is a problem that chairs of boards are responsible
for steering an organisation and for giving it strategic leadership
while they do not have the power to significantly influence the
appointment of fellow board members. In an extreme circumstance
this could mean that the chair of an organisation is dissatisfied
with the majority of members of the board.
We feel there are many problems with the public
appointments process. In the case of DCMS the system is very inefficient
and there are many hold ups. The system is slow and cumbersome.
It appears to be an uneasy combination of open application, combined
with a "head hunting" approach in which desired candidates
are invited to apply. It would be interesting to inquire what
proportion of those members of the public who apply uninvited
ever actually are appointed to DCMSor indeed anypublic
bodies. Many people who are unsuccessful in their applications
are apparently told that their names are being kept on the DCMS
database of potential public appointees and they may be contacted
again in the future. However, this appears to happen very rarely,
no doubt discouraging the individual from applying again for a
A particular problem for the national museums
is that they are required to short list three candidates for each
available place. This is a real problem as two of the three will,
of course, be unsuccessful. This can only serve to demotivate
the museum's supporters and informal advisors. These individuals,
who are giving their time freely to the museum, find that they
are invited to apply for a place on the board only to be rejected.
This could discourage them from continuing to support or advise
the museum in future.
We do not believe it is enough to simply place
advertisements for public appointments in newspapers if the desire
is to get a genuinely diverse range of individuals to apply for
places. There is a need to make real efforts to target particular
groups that are underrepresented on public bodies and to write
specifically to individuals inviting them to apply, to organise
open days at institutions in search of new members of boards,
and to organise events to which potential appointees from diverse
backgrounds can be invited.
There is certainly anecdotal evidence that many
suitable candidates are deterred from proceeding with an application
for an unpaid place on a board because of the requirement they
should have to complete an application form and approach the appointment
as if they were applying for a job, when in fact all they are
doing is offering to give their time voluntarily to serve a public
institution. There must surely be a way of inviting key individuals
to put themselves forward, while minimising bureaucracybut
We hope that these brief comments are of some
help. We would be happy to provide further views and information
if that would be useful.