Snap trap

Alistair Brown, 26.04.2017
What does a snap election mean for museums?
So there is to be another election.

For museums in England this is a worrying prospect indeed. The snap poll was called just weeks before the Department for Culture, Media and Sport was due to publish the results of its Museums Review and to set out a plan for museum provision in England.

The election inevitably puts that work at risk. Even if the election returns a Tory government with a similarly-minded culture minister, museums will have to wait until at least the autumn for news on their future strategic direction and any possible funding changes. If there are more substantial changes in government, then the Museums Review may never see the light of day.

But the greatest concern for museums will surely be the prospect of a new Comprehensive Spending Review, less than two years after the last one.

In 2015, there was a sigh of relief from some museums, with ACE funding and national museum funding being protected at time when much else was being cut. Will the new government take a similar view?

Meanwhile, the devolved administrations will also be looking on with concern. While culture is devolved, any sharp reduction in public spending by the Westminster government has a knock-on effect for the resources available to governments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.

There is much to fight for, and the Museums Association will be making the case for a strong museums sector to all the main parties - before and after the election. To kick off, we think there are a few key policy priorities which all parties should be able to sign up to - but we're keen to hear your views as well.

Firstly, all parties should commit to free entry to national museums, as they did in their 2015 manifestos. Free entry remains one of the jewels in the crown of museum policy, and has been a huge success since it was reintroduced in 2001. It has made our national cultural and scientific collections freely accessible to all and has brought huge economic benefits through increased tourism.

Secondly, the new government should commit to sustaining public investment in museums. In England, local authorities now spend 31% less in real terms on museums than they did in 2010, resulting in a loss of skills and expertise from the sector, reduced opening hours and, in some notable cases, museum closures.

The new government should commit to working with local authorities to sustain their funding, and should mitigate the impact of cuts by increasing Arts Council England’s National Portfolio scheme funding so that a larger number of museums can benefit. There are a number of potential sources of funding for this increase, including the growing receipts from gambling taxes.

Thirdly, the new government must protect the museum sector from the damaging effects of Brexit.

This means ensuring that there are no new barriers introduced for EU visitors to the UK; no new barriers to the exchange of expertise among UK and EU museum staff, and protections for existing staff from other EU countries; and no new customs, tax or regulatory barriers to the exchange of museum objects and exhibitions with EU countries.

Fourthly, the new government should rapidly publish a national strategy for museums, based on the work of the current Museums Review and consultation with sector bodies. This should set out how government will help museums of all types to thrive, and should set an expectation for museums to be socially engaged institutions at the heart of their communities.

Finally, the new government should commit to simplifying and reducing the burden of business rates on museums. Many museums have suffered from a sharp increase in rates due to a number of recent developments in the local tax system.

Taken together, these measures would put the museums sector back on an even keel, and make it capable of delivering the economic, educational and health and wellbeing gains that a government of any stripe ought to be pleased to support.