Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Renaissance Yorkshire Museums Hub (arts 204)


1.1. This response is submitted by Museums Sheffield on behalf of the Renaissance Yorkshire Museums Hub. The Hub comprises Bradford Museums and Galleries, Leeds Museums and Galleries, Hull Museums, York Museums Trust and Museums Sheffield (Lead Partner).


2.1. Public investment into regional museums in recent years is paying off. Museums and galleries are increasingly seen as attractive, vibrant places to visit. Visits to Yorkshire Hub museums have increased by 75% since 2002. But the high quality experience that people are enjoying in unprecedented numbers as a result of this investment emanates from the efforts of whole organisations. Collections care and knowledge underpins exhibitions and displays; learning and community programmes inform, and are informed by, collections knowledge. All activity is linked and it would be a fallacy to believe that savings can be made without having an impact on front line services.

2.2. Public sector cuts will have a profound effect on regional museums and will emanate from numerous directions. The biggest impact will be cuts imposed through parent bodies such as local authorities, followed by cuts to the Renaissance programme.

2.3. Detrimental effects in relation to jobs, collections care, exhibitions, school and lifelong learning programmes, community and outreach activity and support for other regional museums are unavoidable.

2.4. Evidence shows that museums contribute to increased educational attainment, stronger communities and community cohesion. They work with people who are least likely to see themselves as part of the Big Society.

2.5. Museums are an important but underestimated part of the visitor offer, with the financial benefits accruing to the region’s economy not the museums themselves.

2.6. Cutbacks in service will make it more difficult for museums to generate their own commercial income, further impacting on their sustainability.

2.7. The planning and consideration of culture at a national level should be considered by a single body rather than a government department and numerous arms length bodies.

2.8. The delivery mechanism and funding for the Renaissance programme should be given urgent attention to avoid unnecessary redundancy processes and stalling of activity


The extent and scope of the impact

3.1. The museum sector, along with all other public services, is preparing itself for cuts to its funding. For many regional museums the biggest impact will come through cuts to local authority core funding; cuts between 30% and 40% are currently being modelled. As a non-statutory service museums have always had to argue their case against big players such as schools and social services. Many now expect that they, along with other culture and heritage services, will be an easy target for cutbacks at the highest end of the scale.

3.2. Since 2004 the Renaissance programme has also brought central government money into regional museums for the first time to build capacity and enable them to extend their reach to more people. This has led to vastly improved visitor experiences resulting from investment in education services, community engagement and better collections care. In Yorkshire, Hub museums currently receive on average 17% of their funding from Renaissance, over half of which is spent on people. Add this to the anticipated reductions in core funding and many Hub museums will be facing reductions in their operational budgets in the region of 50%.

3.3. In addition, museums understand the advantages of plural funding streams and have been working hard to diversify their income base. Unfortunately, many of these alternatives also emanate from the public sector. This means that museums will not only suffer cuts to their main income streams, but also numerous other cuts which will compound the problem. Some of the following have been confirmed; others remain the subject of speculation:

· Loss of Arts Council England (ACE) funding, e.g. reduction in numbers of regularly funded organisations (RFOs)

· Decline in partnership activity with National Museums

· Investment from regional development agencies which are to close, e.g. Yorkshire Forward

· Reductions in funding from government departments other than DCMS, for example Department for Education (Strategic Commissioning), Ministry of Defence (military museums), Department of Health (partnerships with Primary Care Trusts)

· Decline in other commissioning programmes as organisations operate increasingly in-house to retain their own core staff

· Some local authorities are reviewing rate reductions for charities and rents for museum premises

· Financial insecurity in schools means that they are booking later, making it harder for museums to respond to their needs. Schools are also looking increasingly to parents to finance visits which will further disadvantage children from deprived areas.

· Reduction in commercial business, sponsorship and other partnership funding from private sector companies that rely themselves on public sector business

3.4. Even where funding streams are available, for example National Lottery, many museums will find lack of capacity and match funding to be an obstacle in accessing them.

The effect on museums

3.5. It is anticipated that museums which are directly or indirectly (e.g. through Trusts) delivering services on behalf of local authorities will undergo extensive restructuring and downsizing. The current signs are that they will be under political pressure to keep all sites open rather than being allowed to take a more strategic response to reviewing their cost base. Therefore, in order to make the required savings there will be a disproportionate loss of people, particularly in collections, learning and curatorial teams, as they try to protect sites and opening hours. Therefore a 20% reduction in people overall could translate into a 75% cut within specialist teams. Additionally this loss of expertise will make recovery harder once the funding position improves and will undermine long term sustainability.

3.6. Falling back to a position of caretaker services means that collections care will inevitably suffer. Collections are the lifeblood of museums, part of our shared national heritage. Museums are charged with safeguarding, developing and making accessible collections of local, national and international significance. The collections, the people and the attendant knowledge are at the heart of all museum activity, driving exhibitions, learning programmes and events. They add the authenticity which makes museums into much more than simply visitor attractions.

3.7. Exhibitions are expensive, both in direct costs and staff time. Cuts will mean fewer temporary exhibitions. The ones that remain will be lower cost and therefore less high profile, attracting fewer tourists and visitors. Museums have also worked hard to ensure that exhibitions are created with a whole service approach; therefore loss of audience development, community and learning staff will also have a detrimental impact on the quality of the end product.

3.8. The Renaissance programme placed a high value on education and reaching new audiences. This achieved a substantial increase in learning and outreach activity, particularly school visits, which will be unsustainable in the future. As far as possible museums will wish to protect learning along with other front line activity; however it is inevitable that jobs will be lost and activity will decrease.

3.9. Through outreach activity museums have worked hard to attract non-traditional visitors, such as those on lower incomes or from minority ethnic backgrounds. Reduced expenditure in this area will resurrect the perception that museums are elitist and ‘not for the likes of us’.

3.10. Renaissance, complemented by MLA’s regional activity, also provides support to the wider museum community, from the smallest independent museums to those run by large unitary authorities. This increases the sustainability and quality of museum provision with the resultant benefits accruing to communities and the economy. Should this support mechanism be lost the impact would be to fragment and isolate the sector. There would be a loss of expertise, facilitation and partnership building - in fact everything that makes museums a sector rather than a number of isolated and disconnected services.

Social impacts

3.11. Having considered the impact on museums as organisations, this section will consider the resulting effect on the people they serve.

'Museums enable people to explore collections for inspiration, learning and enjoyment. They are institutions that collect, safeguard and make accessible artefacts and specimens, which they hold in trust for society.'
Museums Association

3.12. Across the country museums inspire hundreds of thousands of school children every year. However, cuts at the level currently predicted will put much of this in jeopardy. In Hub museums many learning staff are Renaissance funded and some will lose their jobs. Non-Hub museums will be affected by cuts to the DCMS/DfE Strategic Commissioning programme. School visit numbers will fall and there will be more self guided visits rather than those facilitated by knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff. The quality and range of programmes will decrease. In addition, there may a further impact from schools themselves being unable to afford trips away from school.

3.13. Why does this matter? Learning and training cannot be delivered solely through the formal education system. People need to access learning opportunities in a variety of places and in ways which suit their circumstances and learning styles. Evidence shows that museums contribute to increased educational attainment by school children. They provide a stimulating learning environment and positively influence attitudes to learning and education. They encourage creativity in the broadest sense.

3.14. Museums reach out to communities and minority audiences, often those in the most disadvantaged areas. They support, and are supported by, thousands of volunteers – over 100,000 in the independent sector alone. This is currently described as the Big Society and museums have been doing it for years.

3.15. Community engagement work will be a casualty of funding cuts. Museums involve everyone in preserving, defining and exploring identity and heritage. It is in-depth work, staff intensive over a long period of time, therefore expensive and vulnerable. But this kind of activity is vital if the Big Society is to flourish. Museums work with people who are least likely to see themselves as part of a Big Society; they may be the first to extend the hand of friendship and encouragement. The Big Society needs a thriving museum sector.

Financial impact

3.16. A recent speech by the Prime Minister drew attention to the value of tourism to the UK economy. Driven strongly by the heritage sector and often underestimated, it is the country’s third highest export earner. The contribution of museums and galleries to the heritage sector is also often overlooked. However, recent research in Yorkshire demonstrates the value of museums and galleries to the regional visitor economy. Museums and galleries, as a group, are more popular than all other types of Yorkshire attraction within overseas, domestic and local markets. Visitors to the region rate museums and galleries as the best of Yorkshire: the only thing better is the scenery. Delivering high visitor satisfaction they are a powerful proposition for the affluent short break market and are a major draw for the growing family market. (Popular, prized and full of potential: Yorkshire Museums and the tourist offer; Wafer Hadley, 2010.)

3.17. However, as important as museums and galleries are to tourism, the associated economic benefits are felt by the region’s economy not by museums themselves. And whilst they are becoming ever more entrepreneurial in raising earned income they will always be a net contributor to tourism rather than a beneficiary. Therefore a decline in museum activity will have an adverse effect on the region’s economy.

3.18. Museums also act as a multiplier within the creative and digital economies. Their recent increased spending power has helped companies in this economic area to build up their businesses as they assist with exhibitions, print and digital design, learning programmes and outreach events. In return, museum and gallery teams are strong supporters of the output from creative companies.  Reduction of museum funding will inevitably have a dampening effect on the creative and digital economy, just at a time when it is seen as being of great importance for the future prosperity of the UK.  

3.19. Museums and galleries are becoming ever more entrepreneurial as they seek to increase their levels of earned income. Improvements in catering and merchandising, cultivation of sponsors and donors, hosting weddings and events are all playing a part. However, this success is underpinned by the fact that they are energetic, successful organisations with vibrant exhibitions, attractive venues and enthusiastic, knowledgeable staff. It therefore follows that if this attraction is diminished so will their appeal to clients and sponsors. Cuts in public funding will be accompanied by a reduced ability to generate commercial income.


4.1 At the time of writing the abolition of MLA is known but we await further announcements about the future of other agencies and arms length bodies. We can only speculate about which of MLA’s functions will survive and who will be given the responsibility of delivering them.

4.2. Clearly for Renaissance Hub museums the future of the Renaissance programme is vital. Whilst it is accepted that programmes such as these should be regularly reviewed to ensure they deliver effectively and efficiently, it is hoped that changes will be introduced in a way that safeguards previous investment. In particular, should there be a loss of Hub status for some museums, this should be done in a measured way to avoid compounding their financial misery. The delivery mechanism and funding for the Renaissance programme should be given urgent attention to avoid unnecessary job losses and stalling of activity.

4.3. The planning and consideration of culture at a national level should be considered by a single body rather than a government department and numerous arms length bodies. This would allow comparison of investment across the cultural sector and a single point of information, direction, evaluation and strategy. It would eliminate the current anomaly within museums where the Nationals work directly to DCMS whilst regional services are channelled though MLA. National museums in many cases deliver the same range and standards of service as the very best independent and local authority services and each could learn through closer links with the others.

4.4. A single body could compel a strategic approach to public investment in the arts and heritage within a city rather than the current piecemeal approach. It could also encourage economies of scale by a strategic lead to identify those areas of activity which would realise the biggest benefits.

4.5. The concept of a single body would also address current concerns about the fragmentation of the sector as the future of MLA functions is considered, for example Accreditation, Renaissance, Portable Antiquities Scheme. This would be compounded should an organisation the size of the Arts Council be charged with responsibility without a fundamental revision of its overall mission and purpose.


5.1. The proposal to restore the share of Lottery funding to heritage projects is welcomed. Consideration should also be given to offering revenue funding for a number of years in order to maximise the public benefit of capital funding. A legal agreement with stakeholder groups to secure such funding would ensure commitment to the future of the investment.

5.2. Cuts in public sector finance are changing the demand for HLF funding. Anecdotal evidence suggests that large capital projects are in decline. It should also be recognised that reductions in numbers of staff and revenue funding will be a barrier to museums in taking advantage of all levels of Lottery funding.

5.3. It is understood that HLF will be asked to reduce their administrative costs which could reduce the time they have to spend on pre-application support. This will disadvantage new applicants, giving more funding to previous beneficiaries.


6.1. The role of businesses and philanthropists is inextricably linked to Government incentives, particularly tax incentives. The current gift aid scheme is generous; however it is complicated and there seems to be little encouragement for take up.

6.2. The UK does not have strong tradition of philanthropy, whilst competition for the attention of those we have is fierce. If the Government is committed to encouraging more philanthropy this needs to form part of a comprehensive long term strategy

6.3. Those private companies and individuals who choose to sponsor the arts want to be associated with excellence. Should cuts in public sector finance have an adverse effect on quality then support from such donors will decrease.

September 2010