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17 July 2008 : Column 506

The steering group asked the key stakeholders to consider three options put forward by Jura Consultants. All the options would involve using the whole site, and would therefore be able to secure the £100,000 per year financial commitment from Coors, but all would need an operating subsidy of between £140,000 to £256,000 per annum. Each of the options would provide the potential to develop the museum and to seek national status. The consultants’ report says:

The report continues:

I very much hope that the many messages of support for the museum, locally and nationally, can now be messages of financial commitment in order to take forward the new operation of the museum, possibly as an independent charitable trust. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of State met a delegation at my request, she offered to contact brewers who might be willing to support the museum. She also mentioned the possibility of support through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Renaissance funding. Local people have suggested voluntary fund raising and at this point I should like to thank all the volunteers who have supported the museum over the years. All those forms of funding can help to sustain and improve it in future years, but a secure stream of revenue of funding is needed to take the project forward. For that, I believe that we must look to both local government and industry. East Staffordshire borough council has, as one of its priorities, the encouragement and development of local prosperity and Staffordshire county council includes in its priorities economic development and enterprise and sustainable development. Advantage West Midland’s strategic objectives include attracting more visitors from outside the region. I feel that all these priorities could be helped by support for the brewing museum.

I also urge the brewing and pub industry to come forward with offers of financial support. I know that these are not easy times for the industry, but this is a golden opportunity to have a museum that reflects the industry as a whole. When the museum was run by only one brewer, it could not be a national museum, nor could it draw down financial support from the lottery and other bodies. The opportunity is now there to develop a national museum of brewing. This is a one-off opportunity, and one that we cannot afford to miss.

I urge any local and national organisations linked with the brewing industry, or in the case of local bodies, concerned for the future of the town of Burton on Trent, to come forward and make a long-term commitment to the financial support of the museum, subject of course to its becoming an independent museum. If all the disparate organisations—business, local government and other groups—can join together, both the financial burden and, in a sense, ownership of the museum can be shared.

I have tried to involve all those organisations that contacted me to support the museum in discussions about its future. I hope that we now can see a united
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effort to secure the funding to take the museum forward as a national museum of brewing. I look forward to hearing from the Minister about any further help or advice he can give us.

5.56 pm

Mr. Bob Laxton (Derby, North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) on her campaign to keep the Bass brewery open. Forty-odd years ago, when Burton was still the brewing capital of the world, and still producing magnificent beers, a few fairly rumbustious friends and I used to travel to Burton by train. I well remember Burton at the time. It used to smell of three things: gasworks, breweries and Marmite. Marmite is still there—the factory is still there, as far as I am aware.

Mrs. Dean: I think that Burton no longer smells of the gas; it still smells of Marmite and brewing.

Mr. Laxton: It still smells of breweries and Marmite—great place.

Here is one of my memories of those days. I was a pint drinker; we drank beer in pints in Derby. I had the unique experience of going into a public house in Burton—I think it was called “The Derby Turn” because, coming from Derby, we would go into “The Derby Turn”—and saying, “I’ll have a pint of Bass, please”, and hearing the whole public house go absolutely silent. I could not understand it, but the reason was that in Burton people did not drink pints; they only ever drank half pints. Why? Bass and all the breweries round there brewed a flat beer, and the view was that if you had a pint, by the time you got to the bottom it would have gone flat, so you only drank out of half-pint glasses. It was absolute sacrilege for anyone to come in and order a pint.

Sadly, Bass’s brewery, as such, has gone, it having been bought out by Coors. The chimney with “Bass” lit up at night has gone; that has now, I think, been replaced by “Coors”. It is sad, but a fact of life.

Mrs. Dean: My hon. Friend may not be aware that draught Bass is currently brewed at Marston’s.

Mr. Laxton: I was well aware that Bass is still brewed. People can still get good copperhead Bass. It is still excellent quality, but it is brewed at Marston’s brewery. For those who want to be technical, the Union brewery process is used to make another excellent beer—Marston’s Pedigree—but, thankfully, Bass is also brewed there. It would be an absolute tragedy if almost the last name of Bass departed as a result of the museum closing. The Minister should take the opportunity to visit it if, as I hope, it reopens.

It being Six o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Blizzard.]

Mr. Laxton: The Minister ought to take the opportunity to visit the museum. I have heard little rumours—they might be malicious—that he has been occasionally seen imbibing alcohol, namely beer, in odd places around here. He should go to Martson’s brewery and sample a good half pint of Marton’s Pedigree, followed by an excellent half pint of copperhead Bass—wonderful; the elixir of life. It would be tragedy if the museum were to
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stay closed. It should reopen. It is part of industrial history, not just for Burton, but for all those people who like good-quality beers, as opposed to some of the noxious rubbish that we are sometimes forced to imbibe in various parts of the world. Magnificent beer; magnificent history; magnificent brewery; and I shall give whatever support I can to my hon. Friend the Member for Burton to ensure that the Bass museum continues to survive for hundreds of years.

6.1 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) on securing this debate and on leading the campaign to save the brewing museum in Burton on Trent. I am delighted to have had the educational experience of hearing my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Laxton) in support of my hon. Friend the Member for Burton, both of whom are members of the all-party beer group. Indeed, the chairman of that group, my hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) is with us now, so this is indeed an important debate on a serious issue.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Burton has rightly pointed out, there is centuries of brewing heritage in Burton on Trent, with many important brewery buildings and, until very recently, a brewing museum. As she has said, Burton is synonymous with brewing. Great brewing names, such as Bass, Worthington, Ind Coope and Charrington, all had links to Burton, thus making it the brewing capital of the world in the 19th century. By the close of that century, I understand that some 87 miles of private brewery railway lines criss-crossed the town, with 32 level-crossing gates controlling the movement of freight across public roads.

Even today, there are still brewery businesses in the town, including Coors and Marston’s, and the town’s brewing heritage continues to be celebrated in the name of the local arts centre and the nickname of the local football team—the Brewers—to name but two. So it is not surprising that the people of Burton signed a petition in their thousands to save the museum from closure and came on to the streets to protest against the closure, with the support of their local newspaper.

Clearly, it is disappointing that Coors could not keep the visitor centre and museum running as a going concern, but I would rather focus on the future than on the past. Yes, the museum may be closed for now, but that should not be the end of the story. The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), met my hon. Friend and local representatives on 16 June. Both my right hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport are keen to see the museum reopen in some form. The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council—the MLA—which is the DCMS’s strategic body for the sector, is advising a steering group on the options that are available. As was reported in the Burton Mail, we do believe that saving the museum is possible and that the setting up of a charitable trust and then fundraising is a fight worth fighting. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking has said that she will write to the major brewers in this country to seek their financial support for a national museum of brewing. This is not simply
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about rebadging the Coors visitor centre under a new name; it has to be about celebrating and explaining the role that brewing and pubs play in underpinning our communities.

The new museum must tell the story of brewing in the community of Burton and its importance for the country as a whole. As a nation, we take our beer pretty seriously, and a national brewing museum has the potential to be the public front door for the brewing industry and its impressive history. When the museum reopens, I shall take up the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North and visit it.

However, first the stakeholder steering group needs to assess what needs to happen to make the museum a viable proposition. That includes arriving at a good, solid, sustainable business plan with a broad range of long-term funding partners behind it. Those will need to include not just Coors, the other brewers and the wider brewing fraternity, but the local authorities—Staffordshire county council and East Staffordshire borough council. As local authorities, they should consider the value that they place on the museum and whether they can contribute to its future, as I understand that there has not been a local authority-backed museum in the town since the 1980s. Support could also come from the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, which has the strategic leadership role for the tourism economy in the region. For instance, there could be scope for marketing the museum as a visitor attraction, alongside the national forest, to draw in visitors to the area.

The new brewing museum should work towards achieving the museum accreditation standard. Accreditation is about a minimum standard of service delivery and public accountability and more than 1,800 museums across the United Kingdom have so far achieved it. Whether a museum has accreditation is a factor in the Heritage Lottery Fund’s assessment of funding applications from museums. East Staffordshire is a priority area for the fund. Only accredited museums can receive funds from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council-Victoria and Albert Museum purchase grant fund.

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The Department for Culture, Media and Sport can also play its part through the Renaissance programme for regional museums, which is managed by the MLA. The Renaissance programme received an index-linked settlement in the comprehensive spending review and the programme includes the Museum Development Fund, which provides advice and support to the museum community in the west midlands. Once the museum is a going concern, it could use Renaissance in the west midlands to build its audiences and develop its strengths. The new brewing museum will also need to earn its own income from entry fees and other commercial activity. The working group is considering whether corporate and private hospitality and conferencing could help cross-subsidise the museum. Other ideas have included setting up an further education school of brewing as a centre of excellence.

Gaining charitable trust status could also help in winning public grant funding and make the museum more attractive to private and philanthropic giving and local entrepreneurs. However, competition for resources is tough. More than half the museums in this country are independent; they range from small local organisations, mainly operated by volunteers, to larger national organisations such as the Ironbridge Gorge museum or Chatham historic dockyard. The museum will have to operate within the resources that are ultimately available to it, and volunteers will have an important role to play in developing the museum and its visitor programme over time.

The coming months will be a challenge for the steering group. I am optimistic in my support for the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Burton and for the wider industry. The enthusiasm of the people of Burton on Trent gives us the opportunity to ensure that the wider community of people in this country, who are passionate about beer and brewing, can have a museum of which they are proud. I hope that we can assist the stakeholder group and that my hon. Friends will keep up the pressure to try to get the museum open again.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at nine minutes past Six o’clock.

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