Simon Stephens, Issue 115/09, p4, 01.09.2015
Do we need a national funding strategy for England?
The question of whether museums should be allowed to charge comes up regularly, so it was no surprise when it reared its head again recently.
It was also no surprise that it was again such a muddled argument, particularly in the national media. It is the government’s policy to keep national museums free, which means the institutions are given funding in return for offering free entry to their permanent collections.

There is nothing that says museums funded by local authorities cannot charge, although most offer free entry.

But if charging was introduced at national museums (forgetting for a moment whether it is fair to deny free access to collections that we all own collectively), what would the money earned be used for? Would it be kept by the museums?

Or could some of the cash be directed to regional galleries, particularly the small- to medium-sized local authority museums that are really struggling?

Another issue that arises from time to time is whether museums in England need a national strategy. There is a story in this issue about the next stage of the national museum strategy in Scotland (page 11).

Wales also has one. So could the development of a national strategy for England help to create a more consistent and holistic approach to funding for museums and related questions to do with charging and other issues?

With such a mix of museums – national, local, arts, independent, military and university – it is a complex sector. This complexity is a real strength, as it helps to make our museums special.

It does, however, mean that there are so many different ways of doing things that it is sometimes difficult to identify pockets of good practice and effective ways of working. A national strategy might help to provide a stronger framework to highlight and support the good work that is going on.
It would certainly not be a panacea – a national strategy would not suddenly conjure up huge pots of money.

But, if it was truly developed by and for the sector, 
a national strategy for England might help to create a more logical approach to museum funding, as well as providing some pointers as to how we move forward these difficult times.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal