Marginal funding rises only paper over cracks in Scotland - Museums Association

Marginal funding rises only paper over cracks in Scotland

Although some arts organisations will receive slightly more in 2014-15, the cuts of the past three years are having a significant impact on museums. Geraldine Kendall investigates
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
All eyes will be on Scotland later this year when its citizens go to the polls to vote on independence. In the midst of a political season dominated by debate about the landmark referendum, the Holyrood parliament found the time in February to pass finance secretary John Swinney’s final budget before voting day.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has become adept at spinning a clear distinction between its own policies and those of the austerity-led Westminster coalition.

For now, at least, it also has the luxury of blaming any hard choices that need to be made on the UK government, which has cut Scotland’s budget by more than £3.7bn since 2010.

The Culture and External Affairs settlement will drop to £231.2m this year – a cut of 6% (8% in real terms).

But the department’s 2014-15 spending plan is relatively kind to culture, with some planned cuts having been reversed and marginal revenue increases across several arts and heritage sectors (see graph), as well as a boost to capital spend.

Out of the £75.2m budget for cultural collections, National Galleries Scotland will receive just over £12m in core funding for 2014-15, a rise of 0.8% to help with “increasing operational costs”. National Museums Scotland (NMS) will receive core funding of £20.4m – a 0.7% rise.

Uncertain future

While welcome, these marginal rises may go only a small way towards mitigating the long-term impact of cuts.

Taking inflation into account, NMS has lost more than 15% of its budget over the past three years. This is inevitably having an impact on services and salaries, with staff taking industrial action last year over pay.

Future levels of funding also remain uncertain, which has a knock-on effect on long-term financial planning.

However, the government’s draft spending plans for its 2015-16 pre-election budget show a possible 12% increase to £84.4m in the total grant for cultural collections.

There is good news for capital investment in culture, which will rise from £4.3m to £13m in 2014-15. This figure includes a further grant towards the construction of the V&A at Dundee, which is due to open in late 2016.

Winners and losers

But the government has not been as easy on every cultural sector. The arts funding body Creative Scotland faces a further 2% cut, while Historic Scotland, which recently warned that its properties would require £172m to deal with urgent repair and conservation issues in the coming decade, will see its budget cut by almost 16% to £37.1m.

A possible merger between Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland is being discussed.

The budget for non-national museums has risen 0.9% this year to £3.21m, thanks to a transfer of funds from a separate arts stream.

Of this figure, Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS), which is coming to the end of its first full year as the national development body, will receive £2.46m, compared with £2.3m last year.

This comprises £1.36m revenue funding to enable MGS to carry it its core operating functions of administering grant funds and leading the delivery of the national strategy.

The remaining £1.1m will be disbursed to the non-national museum sector through MGS investment streams, including £570,000 for the Recognition scheme.

The transition of MGS to a new operating model has not been without problems, and there is concern over the “moderate” pace of the national strategy’s delivery.

MGS is due to publish an update on the strategy’s progress in June.

Perilous position

Scotland’s three largest industrial museums – the National Mining Museum, Scottish Maritime Museum and Scottish Fisheries Museum – which will split the remainder of the non-national museum grant, remain in a perilous position in spite of funding levels being maintained this year.

A 2009 report found that the sustainability of the museums was under threat and called for urgent action to ensure their survival, but according to Scottish Fisheries Museum director Simon Hayhow, the depletion of local government funding has left them in “an even more difficult position than before”.

This highlights a key issue facing the cultural sector: the damage being caused by the £1.7bn worth of cuts to local council budgets since 2010, which some critics argue is a political manoeuvre to keep a distance between ministers and unpopular cuts.

As a non-statutory service, culture is inevitably a soft target for local authorities. Last year, Moray Council became the first in Scotland to axe its arts funding entirely, leaving the Falconer Museum facing an uncertain future.

Dundee City Council and Shetland Islands Council are among others that have proposed deep cuts to culture and heritage provision, and more are certain to follow.

Many independent museums are also struggling. Auchindrain, the preserved highland farming township, issued a crisis appeal for funds last year, saying it was coming to the last of its project funding and financial reserves.

The Auchindrain Trust, which receives no core revenue, wrote: “Like very many of Scotland’s museums, the income which can realistically be raised from visitors… is not nearly enough to cover the cost of collections care and providing services to appropriate standards.”

The SNP has pledged continuing support for what it describes as “a sector that is so fundamentally important to our quality of life and identity as a nation”. Its support is encouraging - but words cannot mitigate the damage that cuts are causing at ground level.

Scotland can lead international cultural dialogue

Culture is already largely devolved, and this Scottish government is the most culturally ambitious government that Scotland has ever had.

We believe that the public funding of the arts is a fundamental good, so in the latest spending review, we prioritised the culture and historic environment portfolio budget to minimise the impact of cuts on the sector.

To support economic recovery, we are more than doubling our planned capital investment in the culture and heritage sector, and investing in skills through the Young Scots Fund.

In an independent Scotland, we will continue to nurture the conditions that allow cultural and creative excellence to flourish.

Scotland is taking centre stage in global terms this year, as we welcome the world to join us in the celebration of the second Year of Homecoming, as well as the Ryder Cup and the Commonwealth Games and its accompanying cultural programme.

This year will also see us host the second Edinburgh International Culture Summit.

Staging such events demonstrates that Scotland can lead and shape international cultural dialogue.

Fiona Hyslop, culture secretary, Scotland

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