Simon Stephens, Issue 117/06, p4, 01.06.2017
Period of uncertainty looks set to continue
Twenty years ago, the UK had just held a general election that saw Tony Blair’s New Labour sweep to power.

At the time, the party was a huge 
force in Scotland and dominated in the north of England and large parts of Wales. In the decade that followed the 1997 election, there were some big changes at museums – many of them positive. In England, more money flowed into museums through the Renaissance in the Regions programme.

And Labour’s devolution programme led to new powers, including over arts and culture, for administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Ten years later, in 2007, Blair resigned, heralding 
a very different decade for the country, much of it created by the fallout from the financial crisis that started in the same year.
The context for this month’s general election is very different from 20 years ago. We are about to leave the European Union, which could lead to the break-up of the UK if Scotland decides it wants independence.

Museums and galleries have experienced huge cuts to their public funding since the coalition government took power in 2010. And all the signs are that local authority funding will continue to be tight.
The sector has had to battle hard to adapt to these ongoing cuts in public funding, but there are some positives. While money for actually running institutions is scarce, museums of all types, including independents, have continued to benefit from public support for capital projects, largely through the Heritage Lottery Fund.

And museums, galleries and heritage sites have all been benefitting greatly from the efforts they have been making to understand their visitors better and to respond more effectively to what they want.

The Museums Association has created a Museums Manifesto that outlines the key priorities for the next government (see p19). Among these are a number of objectives for the new administration, such as to help museums secure a stable financial future during a period of public funding cuts, to diversify audiences and to continue to thrive post-Brexit.
But whatever the result of this month’s general election, it looks as if it will continue to be a period of upheaval for the sector.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal