Blog | “If you don’t ask, you won’t get” - Museums Association

Blog | “If you don’t ask, you won’t get”

March 2024

In the febrile atmosphere of the run up to the general election it is critical that we make the strongest possible case for museums – and the Museums Association has been very busy on the advocacy front. 

We have been doing the rounds of meeting with Westminster politicians, incumbents and shadows, and using our Museum Manifesto to demonstrate the value that museums across the UK deliver, as well as making clear the need for investment in order to sustain that offer. 

We have also been meeting with other sector bodies and stakeholders to ensure that we have a coherent ask and that we work together to share intelligence and speak with one voice to those in power. 

One of the things that we are all agreed on is that there is a real and present danger for civic museums in particular. Arts Council England has gathered useful data on local authority spending on museums which echoes the research done by the MA that showed a 30% drop in funding over a decade. Both reports paint a devastating picture of funding cuts and a resilient sector that is trying to manage the fallout.

The MA has worked closely with the English Civic Museums Network to provide platforms, share advocacy opportunities and support case-making. Civic museum leaders have shared the challenges of sustaining access to public collections in the context of reduced investment from local government; rising inflation; increases in energy bills; increased social needs; and the reduced spending power of visitors.

It makes for grim listening: consultations on the closure of sites; job losses; loss of expertise; collections at risk and the brilliant work that museums have done to connect to communities undermined by years of cuts that have pushed services to breaking point.

There are some positives – sector organisations have pulled together to advocate for the removal of the sunset clause for the Museums and Galleries Exhibition Tax Relief and we are all grateful that this was confirmed in the spring budget.

The Association of Independent Museums is working on an economic impact tool that museums can use locally, and the National Museum Directors’ Council is planning a parliamentary event that will focus on the wealth of collections in civic museums and the need for investment.

At the MA we have published our manifesto and top tips for advocacy and have some key asks:

  • Sustaining, maintaining and growing existing channels of investment which support the museum ecology
  • An emergency response fund for museums at risk of insolvency, providing support in the short term
  • A new Renaissance in the Regions, including review of the national funding structures for museums, recognising the real and present danger to the local museums who hold our national collections

Of course, the main political parties are saying there’s no more money and are shying away from any spending commitments – however, we all know that in some circumstances funding can be found and it’s definitely true that if you don’t ask, you won’t get.