Sefton Council closed the Botanic Gardens Museum last year following budget cuts

22% of museum services close sites

Geraldine Kendall and Patrick Steel, 01.07.2012
MA survey reveals devastating impact of cuts
The Museums Association’s 2012 survey into cuts to museum services has laid bare the devastating impact that budget reductions are continuing to have across the UK.

Out of 114 museum services and individual institutions that responded, 51% reported a cut to their budgets and almost a quarter have been forced to reduce public access by closing whole sites or parts of sites permanently or temporarily. 11% have closed whole sites permanently.


Are cuts doing long-term damage to museums?

42% of respondents said there have been cuts to staff, with almost a fifth saying staffing levels were down 25% or more. Of the respondents that have experienced cuts in 2011 and 2012, over a third have seen a cumulative reduction of more than 35%.

One respondent said: “The cuts pose serious risk to the care of collections as collections management time is reduced. Expert knowledge is also threatened, with cuts resulting in one person doing more than one job, or increasingly with volunteers 'replacing' paid staff.”

31% of all respondents had experienced a cut of more than a tenth to their budget, with a knock-on effect on public services. Half of that group had introduced or increased charges for school visits.

One respondent said that reduced opening hours had forced the museum to shut during busy half-term periods, while others said they were scaling back outreach and development work.

But the survey revealed a sense of increased optimism in comparison to last year's results. The majority of respondents, 36%, said they expected their quality of service to increase in the coming year, compared to just 13% in 2011.

One museum director wrote: “Paid staff now work well beyond their job descriptions just to keep things going, but there is a strengthened team spirit and a wish not to let cuts affect public service.”

The survey also showed that museums are increasingly focused on diversifying income streams, with 69% planning to concentrate more on generating income over the next year and 62% increasing their fundraising activity.

MA director Mark Taylor said: “It’s not getting any better and in some cases it’s getting worse. There’s no prospect of an upturn any time soon. But the survey shows increased determination to improve services. That’s a reflection of the strength and commitment of the museum sector and people who work in it.”

Maurice Davies, the MA’s head of policy, said: “There is a sense of people taking control of the situation rather than losing hope. This is borne out by the responses to our Museums 2020 campaign, where many people have taken a very active and ambitious view of the role of museums in the future.”

Download the MA's press release here (doc)


Sort by: Most recent - Most liked
04.09.2012, 12:38
There is an expectation that we will continue to improve visitor experiences, reach out and engage with communities and be part of the 'leisure sector'. Competing with shopping malls, fun days out for the kids, cinema etc. But this is challenging when locally elected members making decisons about funding have little or no understanding or interest in the work of the museum or appreciation of what we are trying to do.
MA Member
11.07.2012, 13:58
Asif's comment misses the point completely. My museum service has had to make £120,000 budget savings over two years, so how can he talk about "saving money where museums don't need to spend any"? We lost staff and museums in the process.

Equally, if remaining staff are doing the work of three, how does that make them more efficient if they are unable to carry out properly the work required by one post? All it means is that some aspects of work either get only half-done or not at all and standards suffer as result.

Meanwhile. staff morale, as per Helen's comment below, continues to plummet in the face of senior management indifference.

The most appalling aspect of the present onslaught on museums is the loss of so much expertise to museums. The Monument Fellowships, while fine in their way for retired curators who do not require further paid employment, will not answer the requirement of redundant curators who do actually need paid employment and who may well be lost to the sector if they find employment elsewhere.
19.07.2012, 11:34
Actually, it doesn't miss the point. I can point out museums that are locked into £300,000 IT contracts over 5 years - when all they need is about £30,000.

That's where you get back £108,000 out of the £120,000 your museum lost over 2 years.

The point is, museums (or rather your senior management) need to invest in the right people and heritage or culture or education (or whatever the goal is), not in things that are unnecessary.
04.07.2012, 20:21
It's a shame, really. I've spoken to so many museum employees - but part of the problem is that everybody things getting free money is the only way to keep museums and jobs in museums alive. How about saving money where museums don't need to spend any! I wrote the article and a few others a while ago. At the end of the day, what we need is a change in attitude that drives the change to become more efficient as organisations - and that has to come from you guys, the ones who do the work of three people for the salary of half a person!
04.07.2012, 18:36
I am baffled by the tone of this report; hundreds of curators are losing their jobs, but museum directors are confident that a new era of income generation and fund raising will strike hitherto mysteriously untapped sources of funds. I am dismayed at the loss of the expertise and experience embodied in the "redundant" curators who are now no longer a part of these exciting new avenues of activity, and clearly form a constituency that the Museums Association is no longer interested in addressing.
In addition, as someone who worked for six years at a museum totally dependent upon income generation and fundraising, I can testify to the draining away of the museum's energies and optimism in the never-ending quest for income at every turn, and the stress and exhaustion engendered in the staff who have to do this.
I would like to see museums and the Museums Association thinking of ways they could re-capture and harness the intellectual capital vested in museum staff who have lost their jobs, and consider how unemployed curators can be supported in independent projects, or partnership working.
Maurice Davies
MA Member
Head of Policy & Communication, Museums Association
05.07.2012, 11:29
It's a little unfair to say the Museums Association isn't interested in curatorial work! Our Monument Fellowships were aimed precisely at making use of the intellectual capital of people no longer working in museums - and we've pubished a guide to help people share their collections-related knowledge and skills - see The fellowship approach if of course no substitute for proper employment but it provides a useful framework for museums to draw on the skills and knowledge of former staff.
04.07.2012, 17:42
It's happening across the board, we all have to work for free - and even getting those jobs now seem to be a challenge...
Documentation Assistant, Aberdeenshire Museums Service
04.07.2012, 15:43
And I quote:

One museum director wrote: "Paid staff now work well beyond their job descriptions just to keep things going, but there is a strengthened team spirit and a wish not to let cuts affect public service."

As one of those (very) low-paid staff doing three jobs for no extra pay, I have to say that I am, after years of pay freezes, lack of interest by senior management, and the intimation that I should kill myself with stress because I 'love my job and want to offer an excellent service (which is true)', I resent bitterly that it appears to be all right to take advantage of staff by overburdening them with relentless demands to provide outreach, engagement and other front-line services at the expense of collections care and management. The continued downgrading of the professional care we provide for the nation's tangible heritage is appalling, and the lack of support by many local authority senior managers has led to enormous stress and the lowest level of moral I have seen for years.

I'm not even going to go into the (often heavily-implied) threat that 'if you don't do it, there will be plenty of volunteers who will.'

But hey ... I have a job (so far). I shouldn't really complain, now should I?