The Policy Column

Alistair Brown, Issue 116/05, p16, 01.05.2016
A little light (tax) relief
George Osborne sought to portray himself as the defender of the arts during November’s autumn statement by protecting Arts Council England and national museum spending. He used his March budget to further burnish his museum-supporting credentials. Of particular interest was his announcement of two new tax reliefs designed to support the sector.

But will they really make a difference? The first is a tax relief that the MA supported, which will allow museums to claim tax back on the costs relating to touring and temporary exhibitions, following similar tax breaks for orchestras and video games.

This will be a real benefit for museums seeking to finance exhibitions, though the total impact on most museums’ bottom lines will be limited. The second tax relief is a VAT refund that currently applies to national and university museums, and is now being extended to any accredited museum offering free entry. This will benefit those free
museums that have charitable trust status. However, a separate VAT refund that already applies to local authorities means that local authority museums won’t benefit from a penny extra.

Both of these schemes are nice to have. But neither of them will make a fundamental difference to the financial challenges that museums face. Osborne has presided over a £1bn cut in local authority spending on culture in England alone since 2010 – and no amount of tax relief can offset those losses.