Pressure on council to spare Reading Museum from cuts

Nicola Sullivan, 03.11.2015
A savings package of £150,000 is to be voted on by the council's policy committee at the end of the month
Campaigners are increasing pressure on Reading Borough Council to spare Reading Museum and the Town Hall from proposed cuts of £150,000 over two years.
 
The Friends of Reading Museum has written a letter to the council to object to the planned budget reductions of £100,000 in 2016/17 and a further £50,000 in 2017/18.

In 2015/16 the expenditure for the town hall and the museum was £1,717,100. Staff working at the museum have been consulted on the changes, which will be voted on by the council’s policy committee at the end of this month.
 
The proposed cost savings would result in six jobs being lost at the museum.

In its letter to the council, the Friends of Reading Museums highlighted that the museum and town hall had already been restructured in 2010 with positions being cut across the service.
  
It also said that the cuts could result in the loss of the museum’s Accreditation with Arts Council England and threaten relationships with major funders, such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the V&A Purchase Grant Fund.
 
John Steed, the vice chairman of the Friends of Reading Museum, said: “We know exactly what the museum means to Reading and the future of Reading. To anybody outside London it's a very good museum, it is proactive and puts on some very fine exhibitions.

“The cuts would be devastating not only in terms of staff morale but also in terms of the quality if the museum.”

In its letter to the council the Friends of Reading Museum suggested that costs could be reduced by cutting opening hours, encouraging visitors to make donations and getting volunteers to work in the shop. It also highlighted that in 2014 the museum attracted 110,000 visitors and carried out extensive outreach work.
 
Reading Borough Council has estimated it needs to save £39 million from last July to 2019 to accommodate for a 40% cut in government funding.
 
Jo Lovelock, the leader of Reading Borough Council, said: “Since 2011 the council has made major savings whilst avoiding impacting on frontline services as much as possible, but the scale of the government cuts we are now facing is unprecedented for Reading.
 
"By 2019 Reading Borough Council will have taken an estimated £100 million out of its budget. You cannot do that without impacting on people and organisations in the town.”

Comments

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05.11.2015, 18:24
It is ironic that Reading Borough Council are still considering major cuts to its museum service when, on 26th October 2015 the Council announced that “two months ahead of the town’s much anticipated year of culture, Reading’s new Culture and Heritage Strategy sets out a blue print for the future of the town’s culture, arts and heritage for the next 15 years….”. The launch of the Strategy was accompanied by quotes from portfolio holders and stakeholders as to the important of heritage to the town, and also cited a recent poll in which Reading was ranked in the top 16% of the country for heritage. And despite this the Council is still considering cutting the service, with the impact likely to result in the loss of the very expertise and knowledge that delivers one of the Council’s core heritage services.
No local authority faces an easy time of it in light of the relentless and unrelenting demands of central government to make savings. Councils have to carefully consider proposed cuts against their statutory and core commitments, and this cannot be easy. However, in making a strategic commitment to heritage, it seems counter-productive for the Council to then decide to cut a service that encapsulates a number of its core aims and objectives. How meaningful will a Culture and Heritage Strategy be with the loss of an Arts Centre at South Street and cuts to a museum which already saw substantial staff losses in 2010?
Reading Museum has led the way where many other museums have followed. Their partnership and community projects have been popular, inclusive and reached out to the diverse communities of Reading. Their learning programme is award winning and became the subsequent model for loans services from museums across the country. Their standards of collections care have set models that other museums have aspired to. Their exhibition programme is vibrant and can compete with the quality and variety offered by national and nationally styled museums. Their collections are diverse, featuring material of regional and national importance, and the care and research into these collections support all branches of the museum’s activities and services. Reading Museum achieves all this through the passion and expertise of its staff, the support of volunteers and the local community.
Given the proposed cuts will decimate an already heavily skimmed service, what will the benefit be to the Council’s overall cost savings? Arguably, the loss of 6 posts will impact the museum hugely – the subsequently reduce the potential for the Council’s cultural strategy to meet its aims – while the contribution these cuts will make to the council’s overall savings will be negligible. Every £1 invested in heritage I known to generate up to £5 in return for local economies. Think hard Reading Borough Council before you make cuts that jeopardise your own plans and objectives for the future.