Wiltshire Heritage Museum is home to an Anglo-Saxon sword pommel cap, dating from the seventh century

Budget freeze jeopardises future of Devizes museum

Patrick Steel, Issue 112/03, p9, 01.03.2012
Wiltshire Heritage Museum hit by £240,000 pension fund deficit
Wiltshire Heritage Museum may have to be mothballed following a budget freeze, according to chairman of trustees Negley Harte.

The museum is paying the council £21,000 a year to meet a pension fund deficit, on top of a structural deficit valued last year at £69,000. It has frozen its archivist post, cut the hours of its education post and is looking at further reductions.

Earlier this year, the museum’s trustees asked Wiltshire Council for a £60,000 increase in its budget. But at a cabinet meeting on 15 February, members voted to maintain the budget at £35,500.

A spokesman for Wiltshire Council said: “Despite budget constraints, we have not reduced its funding, and were able to maintain the annual grant of £35,500.

“We will continue to work closely with the museum to support it to take action to become financially stable and help reduce its costs.”

Harte described the decision as “appalling news” that could lead to further redundancies and might result in the museum being mothballed.

The museum became liable for £403,000 when it left the Wiltshire Pension Fund in 2008, which was negotiated down to £240,000 after Wiltshire Council agreed to become guarantor. The museum agreed to pay the council £21,000 a year for 20 years to service the deficit.

Wiltshire Pensions Fund, which manages the pensions of more than 100 organisations, has an overall deficit of £396m. Museums Journal understands that  other museums still in the scheme may account for part of that total.

One employer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “It is expensive to stay, but if we leave, we face a liability.”

Adrian Babbidge, a consultant at Egeria Heritage Consultancy, said: “Nationally, there is a large future liability for unfunded pensions that will have to be paid for. Most final-salary schemes have disappeared, and of those that remain, only a very few are fully funded.

“Meeting future pension liabilities represents a long-term challenge for employers throughout the museum sector.”