Council cuts led to the closure of five museums in Lancashire last year, including the Queen Street Mill Museum

Government inquiry acknowledges risk of ‘cultural cold spots’

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 03.01.2017
Select committee calls for better regional funding balance
A government inquiry has recognised the risk of “cultural cold spots” developing across England due to local government cuts.

Overseen by the culture, media and sport select committee, the Countries of Culture inquiry, which released its findings in December, acknowledged warnings from the Museums Association (MA) and other bodies that “the biggest cuts are likely to fall in areas where the cultural offering is already weak, or where wider socio-economic disadvantage and market failure have created a dependency on public sector investment”.

The committee’s report called for a “better regional balance” of central government funding for culture, saying that London-based organisations, which currently receive 42% of Arts Council England (ACE) funding, were in a stronger position to raise alternative revenue than those outside the English capital.

The report said: “We are concerned that the largest sums of money that ACE allocates, through grant in aid, are still disproportionately given to London-based National Portfolio Organisations (NPO) and Major Partner Museums (MPM), even if many of those NPOs and MPMs tour the country or collaborate with regional and local cultural organisations.

“We recognise London as a leading cultural asset, but would still like to see a better regional balance, particularly with regard to ACE grant-in-aid expenditure.

"We believe that cultural organisations in London have more opportunities to increase revenue through alternative streams than organisations in other parts of the country, through sponsorship and philanthropy for example.”

The report recommended several measures to tackle the imbalance, including the development of new income streams and governance models and improved mentoring and partnerships between national and regional institutions.
It also recommended establishing a national body to coordinate lending and touring and to provide curatorial expertise, in order to counteract the effect of cuts on collections specialists in the regions.

The MA welcomed the report’s findings but called for a more radical rethink of government funding.

Alistair Brown, the MA’s policy officer, said: “The MA has long been warning that local government cuts will lead to ‘cultural deserts’ in some areas of the country, and this report shows that the select committee has recognised the precarious position of publicly-funded museums in less well-off areas across the UK.

“However, the report’s prescriptions for solving these problems will have limited impact. Its proposals to increase fundraising capacity and to re-examine tax incentives for museums are welcome, but a more radical approach is needed to protect our most vulnerable museums.

"The government should now take a strategic approach to museum funding across the country in order to address the widening gap between the cultural haves and have-nots.
"It should look to extend the operational freedoms currently enjoyed by national museums to local authority museums, protect business rate reductions for museums, and support museums to work in partnership with agencies, charities and businesses to deliver tangible social outcomes.
“We hope that the ongoing Museums Review in England will address these issues.”