Local authority funding report - Museums Association

Local authority funding report

We commissioned new research in 2021 that looks at Local Authority Investment in Museums after a Decade of Austerity. The report, which was carried out by independent researchers, sets out new figures on the impact that austerity has had on the museums sector in the UK since 2010.

The report is based on a review of data from governments across the UK and interviews with museum professionals. It provides an up-to-date analysis of local authority spending on museum services and charts the decline in local authority investment in museums across the UK over the past decade.

The data covers all spending by local authorities on museums, including those directly operated by local authorities as well as independent trusts which receive financial support from local authorities.

Our research demonstrates that:

Across the whole UK, local authority spending on museums and galleries declined between 2009/10 and 2019/20 by 27% in real terms from £426m to £311m.

  • In England, local authority expenditure on museums and galleries declined between 2009/10 and 2019/20 by 34% in real terms
  • In Scotland, local authority expenditure on museums and galleries declined between 2009/10 and 2019/20 by 23% in real terms
  • In Wales, local authority expenditure on museums and galleries declined between 2009/10 and 2019/20 by 31% in real terms
  • The available data from Northern Ireland does not provide a figure for local authority spending on museums and galleries

While cuts to local authority investment in museums in Scotland and Wales have been slightly lower than in England, museums in both countries do not benefit from an equivalent to Arts Council England (ACE) National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) investment. During the current ACE NPO period 2018-22, this would be equivalent to approximately £14m of additional investment in Scotland, and £8m additional investment in Wales.

Cuts in funding are having a material impact on the ability of museums to maintain basic levels of service and work with their communities. Museum leaders are particularly concerned about the loss of revenue funding which enables museums to open their doors and pay staff.

There is substantial variation in the level of funding cuts between different local authority areas. Key factors underpinning decision-making on cuts include:

  • Pressure on local authorities to fund statutory services
  • Political preferences within the local authority
  • Ability of the museum to generate income or match-funding
  • Profile of the museum within the local authority

Local museums have consistently supported their communities during the pandemic and are playing a critical role in supporting community recovery. In light of this new research into funding for local museums the Museums Association is calling for:

  • Governments across the UK to take a strategic approach to investment in local museums
  • Governments to consult on and develop new ways to support revenue funding for local museums
  • The Museums and Galleries Exhibitions Tax Relief to be made permanent
  • Business Rates to be reformed in England and Scotland to ensure museums are treated more equitably
  • Local authorities to support new opportunities for museums to work with partner organisations in their communities – including public sector bodies, charities and businesses

Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, said: “This independent research lays bare the debilitating reduction in funding that local museums have suffered over the past 10 years. These museums provide a vital community service, and in some towns and cities they are amongst the few civic spaces that are open and welcoming to all.

“We know that local authorities are under enormous pressure to provide statutory services, despite sustained cuts to their budgets, which often means that museums lose out. Throughout the pandemic museums have supported home schooling during lockdowns, provided safe spaces to overcome the impacts of social isolation and supported communities to come to terms with challenges they face. If they are to continue to provide this support and to play a critical role in the recovery, then they need fair and sustained funding.  

“We are calling for a fair funding settlement for local authorities in the forthcoming budget and for administrations across the UK to recognise the value of their local museums and to fund them.”