Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Board of the South Western Federation of Museums & Art Galleries (SWFMAG) (arts 207)

Summary points

· Heritage is a cornerstone of tourism in the South West, worth £6.3bn in 2009;

· Experienced museum professionals are essential to sustaining the contribution of volunteers;

· Small amounts of core funding unlock larger sums and economic benefits;

· More and simpler mechanisms for tax efficient donations by individuals and corporations could generate increased income to the sector;

· A continuous programme of training is essential to ensure staff and volunteers have the skills to maximise the contribution that museums make to their local communities and to the tourism industry in the South West;

· Accreditation, administered by sector specific staff, has led to a demonstrable rise in standards which must be built upon to ensure museums meet their potential at the centre of communities and the economy.

· The South Western Federation of Museums & Art Galleries is well placed to channel cost effective support to the region, as demonstrated by its management of the SW Renaissance Museum Skills Programme in 2008-2010.


1. This submission is made by the Board of the South Western Federation of Museums & Art Galleries (SWFMAG). The Federation is a voluntary subscription based charity, representing museums and the paid and volunteer staff who work in them in the South West of England. It was founded in 1931 to exchange information, share skills, create opportunities and promote the value and benefits of museums and art galleries. In 1953 it was the driving force behind the creation of the first Area Museum Council – the regional bodies whose roles were taken over by the regional Museum Libraries and Archives Councils in the early 2000s.

2. We welcome the opportunity to submit evidence to this Inquiry and would start by saying we applaud the Government’s recognition of the importance of tourism to the British economy. It highlights the contribution made by museums and heritage in attracting visitors to Britain and encouraging UK residents to holiday at home. Figures published by VisitBritain provide robust evidence of the impact of our sector. As the UK’s top tourism destination after London and the South East, the South West accounts for 18% of the UK earnings from tourism, totalling some £6.3bn in 20091. It is essential that the museums, galleries and heritage sites that attract visitors to the region continue to meet visitor needs and expectations in this highly competitive market. To do this they need skilled staff and volunteers and financial stability.

3. The South West of England comprises 9 county and unitary authorities as well as the Channel Isles and Isles of Scilly, 18% of the land mass of England and as many museums as London and the southeast combined. There are 544 museums and collections, 229 of which are accredited under the MLA scheme.  The majority of these local authority and independent museums are staffed and run by volunteers, usually retired, with no previous museum experience, reliant on the support of a network of professionals to maintain and deliver quality. Even museums with paid staff rely on volunteers to deliver many aspects of their service, from visitor reception, through running learning activities to research and essential fundraising.

4. This submission addresses 2 of the questions posed by the Inquiry and illustrates these with examples from our region. In so doing it describes initiatives which inform other areas under examination by the Inquiry.

5. What impact will spending cuts from central and local Government have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level?

5.1 Spending cuts from local and central Government will have a big impact on museums in the South West, at a time when the opportunities for funding from other sources are severely stretched. Museums, whether council run or independent, large or small, run by volunteer or paid staff, will all be affected as they all benefit either directly or indirectly from government subsidy. Cuts will affect staffing levels, the ability to preserve items for the future, to add to collections, to interpret them and make them accessible to everyone – it fact the whole gamut of museum activity.

5.2 Cuts threaten the great improvements made over the years, and accelerated since the start of Renaissance in the Regions, to user services and in collections care. The term ‘museum’ can no longer be used as a pejorative word, shorthand for something dusty and static. The success of initiatives such as Kids in Museums, A History of the World in 100 objects and the recent blockbusting Banksy exhibition at Bristol City Museum are examples on a national scale which are replicated at local level several times over.

5.3 It is the professional specialist curatorial, conservation and education staff, able to work on the collections themselves, train others in the skil ls required or facilitate hands- on public exploration that have brought about this change. A museum’s collections become meaningless and inaccessible if they are not properly housed, preserved, researched and made available to the public through display, interpretation, activities and direct access.

5.4 Museum Development Officers, the Museum Development Fund and Conservation Development Officers

The expertise, encouragement and access to project funding and small grants provided by MDOs and the CDOs are key to the success of smaller museums. To cut them would severely threaten museums’ capacity to deliver at the present level.

5.4.1 Modernisation of small and volunteer run museums like the ones so prevalent in the South West can be directly traced to the work of Museum Development Officers (MDOs). Now funded mainly through MLA Renaissance and local authority budgets, MDOs successfully undertake a wide range of tasks at a local level because of their capacity to generate enthusiasm in others. They promote Museum Accreditation, provide advice and guidance, broker partnerships, act as advocates, encourage and support volunteers and develop and manage projects funded by the Museum Development Fund (MDF). They also administer and distribute small grants from the MDF and often organise the County Museum Groups (county based, self help groups of museums). They encourage participation in initiatives that fulfil government priorities as well as meet local needs.

5.4.2 Recent research in the South West 2 and the West Midlands confirmed that MDOs are the key component in the improved performance of smaller museums

An independent evaluation of the MDOs' work was carried out in 2008. It demonstrated that, notwithstanding their limited capacity, they had achieved:

· a very high awareness level of their work, with almost all small museums having contact with the MDO;

· an especial appreciation of their work relating to funding advice, information about national initiatives and networking;

· improved ways of working by museums as a consequence of their advice and training, supported by a grants scheme that enabled changes that might not otherwise have been possible.

It is clear from this positive response that MDOs are highly-valued, and increasingly seen as the key component in support for smaller local museums. Besides being of practical assistance, much of what is achieved is very much with the grain of governmental policies intended to support the voluntary sector, and in creating a sense of identity and cohesion for local communities – 'place-shaping'.

Extract from Supporting Museums in the West Midlands, by Egeria, published by the Marches Curators Group, 2009

Likewise the impact of the work of Conservation Development Office rs greatly outweighs the cost. In the South West a second CDO post was deleted early in 2010 because ‘a need was being created for the advice and support given which it would not be possible to meet.’ 3 . The demand for practical help even now outstrips supply.

5.4.3 The achievements of MDOs and CDOs are in line with government policy of encouraging the growth of the voluntary sector. They help communities explore and express their local identity through the provision of a lively museum which meets professional standards. Vulnerable to cuts in both local and national government expenditure, the loss of these posts would particularly severely curtail the sustainability and development of the volunteer run museums in our region.

5.5 Volunteers

Volunteer recruitment to museums will become even harder if extra demands are placed on them, sources of specialist advice are withdrawn and regular small grant funding ceases.

5.5.1 Volunteers are key to the provision of museums and services in the South West, but they need professional support to take some of the strain and to provide expert advice. In Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire alone, a survey of volunteering in museums carried out as part of the Renaissance-funded project Valuing Volunteers, revealed that, in these 2 counties alone, there are at least 675 volunteers working in the museum sector 4 .  They give an average of 6544 hours a month of their time and skills, with an estimated value of £87,253, free.  This translates as £1.1M a year. Research in Somerset demonstrated a similar situation.

5.5.2 Local authority cuts are impacting on independent volunteer run museums which rely on local authorities for grants to cover rent charges or for reductions in business rates. One example, Chard Museum , set up as a volunteer run charity 40 years ago, is suffering substantial financial difficulties because of the tapered withdrawal of a grant of c.£9,000 a year to cover its rent to the local authority . Comments in the visitors’ book include: Probably one of the most comprehensive collections of rural crafts, local engineering and some fantastic large exhibits. A credit to all concerned in establishing and continuing to provide a window on Chards past.’. The pressure to raise the shortfall themselves, in an area of rural deprivation, puts undue stress on the museum’s trustees and forces them to consider resigning from the work they love. Many volunteers are retired. They did not volunteer to take on similar levels of stress and responsibility that they had during their working lives.

5.6 Education and Learning

Education and learning will suffer because there will not be the people with the knowledge of the collections or the special teaching skills to generate appropriate curriculum based resources or lifelong learning opportunities.

5.6.1 Use of museums for formal and informal learning has increased by over 25% since 2002, facilitated through Renaissance funding and the money brought into museums through the Strategic Commissioning partnership with the Department for Education. Schools and lifelong learners engage with collections through structured workshops, drop in sessions, over the internet through specially developed digital resources. Research consistently confirms the benefits of museum-based formal learning, particularly amongst otherwise low achievers 5 . Cuts in this area of work would severely compromise schools’ ability to deliver the curriculum and engage children in their local community.

5.7 Partnerships

Cuts will threaten the partnerships that museums have built up locally, regionally and nationally, not just between museums but with Social, Youth and Probation Services, NHS trusts, arts organisations, care providers and others.

5.7.1 Museum collections are fantastic resources through which to develop skills, gain self esteem, showcase talent and develop well-being. Many HLF funded projects are testimony to this. Not only do partnerships bring extra resources into museums, they cement their role within local communities and ensure their collections are used by a broad number of people. Local and national government cuts to the budgets of all partner organisations will mean this frequently life-changing aspect of museums’ work is likely to be curtailed.

5.7.2 North Somerset Museum’s project, Then and Now – Teens through the Timewarp, was a partnership between the council run museum and youth services. Thirty teenagers developed workplace and social skills through the curation of the exhibition which reached the finals of the 2007 National Lottery Awards.

5.8 Training

Innovation in the South West has demonstrated how training administered by a regionally based museum group can maintain provision when cuts threaten to narrow opportunities.

5.8.1 Training in all aspects of running a museum is vital to ensure we have the skills and knowledge to get the most out of the collections we hold in trust for society now and in the future. In the South West training has most recently been principally funded through MLA Renaissance money, making it particularly vulnerable to financial cuts.

5.8.2 For the past 2 years Renaissance South West has contracted our organisation to deliver training across the region. This has proved to be highly successful, not only in terms of value for money (average cost per delegate £34), but also in terms of delegate satisfaction. Evaluation has shown that this is due to our knowledge of local needs, of the profile of delegates and their institutions, of training venues and of local sources of trainers who are experts in their field. Delegates from independent and local authority museums value the opportunities to meet to share ideas. Working in a small institution in a large geographical area can be an isolating experience.

5.9 Cash

Through their professional expertise and strong community support museums have gained a track record of maximising the income they have. Proposals to reform Gift Aid rules, the rise in the rate of VAT and increasingly centralised challenge-funding threaten this economic achievement.

5.9.1 Following consultation with users6 Renaissance South West re-introduced a small grants scheme administered by the CDO to help museums buy environmental monitoring equipment, storage materials and to fund conservation costs. Supplemented by the museum’s own funding these grants make basic improvements in collection care possible.

5.9.2 With just £500 each from MLA 2 volunteer-run independent museums in Somerset piloted the National Portrait Gallery’s Take One Picture project to promote the use of museum collections by schools. The pilots were so successful that the approach is now being rolled out across the region.

5.9.3 The benefits of locally based services, where users and providers build up relationships and trust cannot be overstated. Centralisation results in depersonalisation which in turn leads to de-motivation and slow and inappropriate responses to the challenges being faced. What looks on paper to be a cost-saving turns out to be more expensive, either because a result is more limited or of poorer quality or because additional resources have had to be drafted in to supplement the original budget.

5.9.4 Several independent museums raise between 3 and 10% of their income through Gift Aid. Changes introduced in 2006 made the system more complex so that generally only larger institutions had the capacity to benefit from the scheme. To restrict access to it further would severely harm the financial projections of independent museums, many of which are already seeing their income from reserves plummet as interest rates remain at an all time low and stock exchange dividends falter. Likewise, charities cannot reclaim VAT on purchases and so will bear the cost increases resulting from the rise in rate being brought in this coming New Year.

5.10 Responsibility for historic assets

Some local authorities are avoiding their responsibilities for historic buildings and collections left to them in trust by cutting funds to charities that have taken on the responsibility of running them.

5.10.1 The delegation to a charity of the responsibility for running a museum, frequently sited in a building which itself is a heritage asset, is seen by local authorities as a good way to reduce their expenditure on the service, sometimes to nil. The requirement on authorities to charge rent for their properties has meant that in the past charities have been grant aided this cost. When these grants are axed authorities are arguably breaking the law as they are not meeting their responsibilities to look after their historic assets, which have frequently been gifted to them for safe keeping.

6. How will the abolition of the MLAC impact on museums?

6.1 When it was set up in 2000 the MLAC, then named Re:source, took over the responsibilities of the Museums & Galleries Commission (MGC) and expanded its remit to include Libraries and Archives. Some functions, for example the provision of a cohesive approach to accessing European funding, were lost during this reorganisation. It is to be hoped that such key areas of operation will not be shed this time.

6.2 Accreditation

The uncertain future of Accreditation and of the demonstrable rise in standards it has engendered are of great concern. Responsibility for the scheme must be administered by sector specific staff.

6.2.1 Accreditation (formerly Registration) is a voluntary scheme which sets standards in all areas of a museum’s operation. Museums from the largest National to the smallest community museum have successfully used it as a framework for development and improvement in governance, collections care, financial management, and in their presentation to and involvement of the public. It has made museums more accountable and added both legal and conservation safeguards to the collections that institutions hold in trust for present and future generations. It reassures funding bodies and the public that the museum is publically accountable. Accreditation must survive as an active programme with qualified museum professionals to administer it at all stages.

6.3 The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

The PAS plays an increasingly important role in the operation of the Treasure Act. Since 2003, when the PAS was extended to the whole of England and Wales, there has been an average increase of 194% in the reporting of Treasure, to the benefit of museums across the country.

6.3.1 In 2008 806 finds of Treasure were reported with a further 53,346 non-Treasure finds recorded with the PAS on a voluntary basis, adding significantly to our understanding of the past. 82 parties waived their right to a reward in 51 cases of Treasure, allowing them to be acquired by museums at no (or reduced) public cost. Without the PAS there would be no mechanism to deal effectively with finds found by the public and ensure the knowledge about them is disseminated for the benefit of all.

6.3.2 The Scheme is managed by the British Museum on behalf of the MLA. The abolition of the MLA and the re-organisation of the Renaissance programme and cuts to national museums’ budgets put the PAS in jeopardy. The British Museum, a strong candidate to take on the scheme, must be adequately funded to do so.

6.4 Other key functions of MLA

It is important that other services operated by MLA including Acceptance in Lieu, the National Security Advisor, Export Licensing, Designation, Purchase Grant Schemes and Government Indemnity are not lost in transition.

6.4.1 These services make a tremendous contribution to the operation of museums and to the cultural well-being of the UK as a whole, for example Government Indemnity enables the loan of important collections from national museums to the regions, providing inspiration and pleasure to a broader audience.

7. Conclusion

Museums are lively, innovative institutions staffed by people with a passion for the work they do and the potential it can unlock in individuals and communities. Their success in what they do, either as volunteers or paid staff, is underpinned by high professional standards and a small amount of core funding to which they then add value through creative partnerships and enthusiasm.

Heritage and museums inspire civic pride and creative activity which revives the spirit and enriches communities, establishing a positive outlook which is at the heart of Britain’s recovery.

The South Western Federation of Museums & Art Galleries is the only sector specific regional organisation in the South West. It is ready to work in partnership with DCMS to face the challenges ahead.

September 2010

[1] Tourism Facts and Figures , Museums Association, London 2010, contains information relevant to museums and references to key VisitBritain publications.

[2] The South West Museum Development Fund, Renaissance South West, 2010

[3] Stuart Davies Associates, Collection Care and Conservation Support Feasibility Study, Renaissance South West, 2010 ; available at:

[4] Reynolds, J., Valuing Volunteers , Gloucestershire County Council, et al, 2009 ; available at :



[5] Research Centre for Museums & Galleries, Inspiration, Identity, Learning: The Value of Museums, DCMS, 2004 ; available at:,%20Identity,%20Learning_The%20value%20of%20museums.pdf


[6] Stuart Davies Associates, Collection Care and Conservation Support Feasibility Study, Renaissance South West, 2010