National Railway Museum Shildon set to transfer to Science Museum Group

Jonathan Knott, 20.09.2017
Agreement in principle reached between council and museum group
Locomotion, the National Railway Museum at Shildon, is set to come under the full operational control of the Science Museum Group (SMG) later this year, under plans agreed last week.

The museum’s management structure currently includes staff from both the council and SMG. But Durham City Council has agreed to move forward with a proposal to transfer the museum’s council employees (13 permanent and 12 casual staff) to SMG.

report considered by the council’s cabinet said that the current arrangement “has resulted in a number of operational difficulties”.

A document on the council website said that negotiations with SMG have been taking place since a review of the museum’s management structures and governance processes in November last year. “Those negotiations have now reached the stage of an ‘in principle’ agreement and it is now necessary to seek formal approval of these arrangements,” said the council.

The target date for the transfer to go ahead is 1 December, with the formal process intended to begin in October.

Under the potential arrangement, all the museum’s land and buildings would be leased on a long term “peppercorn basis” to SMG, which will have full maintenance responsibility. The site is owned partly by the council and partly by Network Rail.

The report said that this was intended to resolve problems arising from shared responsibility for maintenance: “The estate at Locomotion is held under a mixed set of lease, ownership and management responsibilities. This creates confusion as to which organisation is responsible for the various elements of maintenance.”

The council would continue to make a significant financial contribution. The authority currently provides about 50% of the museum’s operating budget (£234,161 in 2016-17). Under the proposed plans, this will increase to £259,161 in 2017-18 and then be reduced by 2% each year until 2021-2022.

The plans would also involve a 50:50 responsibility for a backlog of capitalised maintenance works, but there would be no commitment to share the cost of future capital projects in this way.

And the position of chair on the museum’s board, which is currently independent, would be taken up by an SMG trustee “in order to raise the profile of the museum nationally and within SMG”.

The board would continue to include three council representatives and three representatives of SMG, from a maxium number of 12 board members.

Ossie Johnson, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for tourism, culture, leisure and rural issues, said that the museum was a key asset within the council’s cultural portfolio and that the authority remained committed to its long-term development.

“Locomotion currently attracts around 200,000 visitors each year and over the past 13 years has exceeded all our initial expectations,” said Johnson. “However, it is now clear that if the museum is to continue to grow and expand its audience, some changes are needed to the way in which it operates. 

“The new arrangements we are proposing will enable this to happen while also ensuring that we are able to continue our direct involvement in the strategic management and governance of the museum.”

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