Scottish sector pulls together - Museums Association

Scottish sector pulls together

Museums Galleries Scotland has completed its first year as the national development body. Patrick Steel assesses its progress
Patrick Steel
Last month Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) published a progress report on its first year as national development body, listing several achievements (see box), and detailing plans to access European Union funding, implement a new grants management system to allow applications to be made online, and to build its digital capacity.

MGS has had a turbulent couple of years in its transformation from a subscription-based membership organisation to the national development body for Scotland’s museums.

However, Jill Miller, the director of culture at Glasgow Life, says the controversy around the launch of the new structure has now died down, and museums are working productively with MGS to build the sector.

Nat Edwards, the Museums Association’s representative in Scotland, agrees. He says that although funding continues to be tight, museums have more confidence, in part due to the strategic repositioning of the sector through MGS.

If there is a criticism, says David Mann, director of the Scottish Maritime Museum, it is that there is still a lack of communication between MGS and the wider sector. This point has been echoed by the Scottish Museums Federation’s outgoing president, Tamsin Russell.

Joanne Orr, the chief executive of MGS, says it has developed networks and forums around Scotland and consulted extensively on MGS’s delivery plan for the national strategy last year. She says MGS will visit about 70 museums this summer to gather feedback on how the plan is progressing.

Bridging the gap

A pressing issue for Orr is the future of MGS itself. It is a small organisation, with 20 full-time equivalent staff, which has absorbed the loss of £92,500 from subscriptions and a £15,000 reduction in its core revenue grant from the Scottish government in 2014-15.

But rather than cut posts or reduce funding to museums, it has used its reserves to fund the gap.

Now the organisation is developing a pricing and business strategy that will lead to the introduction of a transparent system for charging for some services over the next five years.

Orr will not be drawn on where the charges will fall, but suggests that they may be for “bespoke services” and that there may be potential to sell MGS’s products overseas, although not, she emphasises, at the expense of MGS’s core services.

Mann characterises MGS as a “work in progress”. A year on, it is moving slower than he would like, but moving in the right direction.

One year on: MGS’s achievements

  • £1.1m grant funding distributed to sector in 2013-14.
  • £1.45m raised for sector-related projects in 2013-14.
  • Additional funding for skills development (£80,000) and first world war projects (£100,000).
  • £422,400 raised for 12-month internship scheme in 2015.
  • Review of the Recognition Scheme (a report is due in the summer).
  • 136 museums assessed under Accreditation since December 2012.
  • Established cross-sector stakeholder group to help deliver national strategy.

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