Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Renaissance East Midlands (arts 158)

Summary

· 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 revenue funding.

· 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.

1. Introduction : 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 m useums 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 Accredi t ed local authority museums or galleries were threatened by cuts so severe that they put at risk their ability to remain within the national s tandard.

2.1.1 I have had to contact three local authorities to inform them that cuts being proposed w ould put at risk the Accredited status of their museums and one site h as 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 tha t the c ollections 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 o n the larger services that are part of the hub, Renaissance supports c ollections a ccess a ssistants that provide vital support to voluntary sector museums in the ir 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 6 9 such museums have either reached the point of apply ing for Accreditation, or are likely to d o 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 pr oportion to the size of the cut (see 2.3.2 for an example).

2.2.5 29 of the 38 independent m useums in the East Midlands that are part of the Accreditation Scheme require professional advice f rom 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 staff ing levels are reduced, leading to the loss of posts and greater pressure s on the time of remaining staff. This comes at a time when, thanks to the success of the MDO s , a considerable number of independent museums have developed to the point where they are preparing to apply for Accreditation . A s many as 72 museums could join the S cheme 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 not diminishing.

2. 3 W hat 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 necessar il y needed for exhibitions or other direct public functions (i.e. only one or two examples are needed to illustrate the story that an archive tells) . Similar ly, 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 it s 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 visito rs and volunteers.

2.4 T he 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 h elped 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 inefficien cy and an inevitable decline in the morale of professionals required to work as amateurs. A n ew 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.

3 . Conclusion: 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 value of Museum Accreditation

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;

· 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’ stakeholders by:

· 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 generations;

· providing potential lenders with evidence that a museum can care for items loaned to it.

September 2010