Capital donations in 2015-16 helped to support the British Museum's World Collections and Exhibitions Centre. Photo: Jononmac46. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Government grants formed larger proportion of national museums’ income last year

Jonathan Knott, 02.08.2017
Percentage of grant-in-aid rose at the British Museum, the Natural History Museum and the V&A
Grants from the government formed a bigger proportion of the income of many national museums in 2016-17 than it did the previous year, according to annual reports published last month.

Accounts show that grant-in-aid from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) formed a larger part of the income of the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and the Natural History Museum (NHM), as well as Tate and the National Gallery.

In some cases the higher proportion can be partly explained by the museums receiving large one-off increases in grant-in-aid for capital spending. But increases in revenue grant-in-aid and falls in self-generated income also contributed to the trend.

Last year the British Museum received grant-in-aid of £53.6m out of a total gross income of £117.7m, compared to £41.8m out of £111.3m in 2015-16. This meant that the proportion of the museum’s income provided by grant-in-aid rose from 38% to 46%.

The museum received £13.9m capital grant-in-aid from DCMS in 2016-17, compared to £2.6m in 2015-16. Its revenue grant-in-aid increased by a much smaller amount (rising from £39.2m to £39.7m).

The museum’s self-generated income (including all other sources of income such as admissions, commercial income, and donations) fell from £69.6m in 2015-16 to £64.1m last year.

Trading income, gained through selling products and services such as international touring exhibitions, consultancy and retail, was £14.8m, the lowest it has been since 2013. And income from fundraising (seeking financial support from sponsors, private benefactors, and charitable trusts) was £27.1m, the lowest it has been since 2012.

A spokeswoman for the British Museum stressed that the institution’s levels of core unrestricted grant-in-aid and core capital grant-in-aid remained unchanged, and that it had received a one-off addition to its capital grant-in-aid of £11.2m.

She added that income from donations and legacies can vary significantly year-on-year, in particular because of the effect of capital donations, which can be very substantial and tend to be grouped around the time of large acquisitions or major capital projects.
”Donations in support of capital work in 2015-16, which included funds in support of the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre which opened in 2014 and the currently ongoing work on the new Albukhary Foundation Galleries of the Islamic World, were £14m, compared to £6.3m in 2016/17. Revenue donations in both years remained comparable, at £6m 2015-16 rising to £6.3m in 2016-17,” said the spokeswoman.

And she said that elements of trading income are also variable and depend on the museum’s public programme and international activity. “Over the last five years trading income has been within the range of £11.9m to £18.5m, with the 2016-17 figure of £14.8m broadly in the middle of that range,” said the spokeswoman.

Last year the Natural History Museum received 58% of its income from grant-in-aid (£49.1m out of £84.2m), compared to 55% the previous year (£41.8m out of £76.1m).

The museum received a one-off increase in capital grant-in-aid of £7.3m this year, while its revenue grant-in-aid remained at £39.5m, the same as the previous year. The museum’s capital grant-in-aid will return to £2.3m for 2017-18 and the following two years.

The NHM’s self-generated income increased slightly last year from £34.3m to 35.1m. The museum’s net income from trading activities last year was £10.6m, about £1m less than the previous two years. Its fundraising income was £5.6m, almost the same as it was in 2015-16.

The proportion of the V&A’s income received through grant-in-aid rose from 39% to 42%. Last year, the museum received a total of £40.3m of grant-in-aid out of an income of £95.4m, compared to £37.2m out of £96.2m in 2015-16.
This amount of grant-in-aid restricted to capital spending was £4.8m, significantly lower than the previous year’s amount of £6.9m.
The V&A’s self-generated income was £55.1m last year, down from £59.1m the previous year. Its trading profit was £5.3m, down from £8.0m in 2015-16, and its admissions income also fell from £7.7m to £5.9m.

A spokeswoman for the V&A said that the museum generates income from a wide range of other sources as well as grant-in-aid.

“In 2015-16 DCMS grant-in-aid reflected 39% of the V&A’s total income. This was the most successful year in the V&A’s history; 3.93m million people visited the museum’s sites and 493,043 saw the blockbuster exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty," said the spokeswoman. “In 2016-17 core visitor numbers remained constant but there was a decrease in visitors to temporary exhibitions, which saw a small decrease in self-generated income. There was also a one-off increase in our core grant-in-aid allocation due to capital development activity, meaning the percentage of total income attributable to DCMS grant in aid rose slightly to 42%.”
The proportion of the National Gallery’s income received as grant-in-aid increased from 52% to 58%. This was due to the institution’s income falling from £46.4m to £41.2m, while its grant-in-aid remained constant at £24.1m.

The gallery’s trading income rose slightly from £2.8m to £3.2m. Its fundraising income fell from £15.8m to £11.1m. (The 11.1m figure does not include £31.1m raised towards an offer to purchase a Pontormo artwork, which was not accepted by the owner.)

And for Tate, the proportion of income from grant-in-aid increased last year from 21% (£32.7m out of £156.1m) to 25% (£40.3m out of £162.3m). Its self-generated income was £122m last year, compared to £123.4m in 2015-16.
Other institutions that saw the proportion of their income received through grant-in-aid rise were Imperial War Museums (from 48% to 52%) and the National Portrait Gallery (29% to 33%).

But not all national museums followed the trend. At National Museums Liverpool, the percentage of income received through grant-in-aid fell from 69% to 60%. And at the National Maritime Museum, which was donated heritage assets worth £73.5m from the Ministry of Defence last year, it fell from 53% to 13%.

The Science Museum Group (SMG) saw a rise in the proportion of grant-in-aid from 38% to 48% last year. The group’s income received a £19.6m boost in 2015-16 from profits on the sale of the Post Office Building. If this is excluded, the proportion of grant-in-aid has remained the same at 48%.

Annual reports and accounts for 2016-17 for national museums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have not yet been published.