IWM North

IWM looks to privatise visitor services and security

Rebecca Atkinson, 03.10.2013
Three-year £10m contract put out to tender
The Imperial War Museums (IWM) has confirmed that it has put out a tender to private companies to take over the running of its visitor services.

The museum group is undertaking a review of visitor and security services across its five sites – IWM London, IWM North, IWM Duxford, Churchill War Rooms and HMS Belfast. About 200 staff are employed by the group in visitor services and security roles.

The three-year contract to run the services is worth between £10 - £11m.

A spokeswoman for IWM said: “In July an advert went into the Official Journal of the European Union asking for expressions of interest.

“These were then sifted through a pre-qualification questionnaire process which has resulted in five companies, on 20 August, being invited to tender to evaluate and compare our in-house service with the standards and costs of an external company.

“The companies are due to submit their tender in October and having reviewed their submissions and fully evaluated them against the current service, a decision will be made as to whether we will retain an in-house service or award a contract to an external contractor in December.”

She added that contracting out the departments would depend on what the five companies could offer and was “not certain” at this stage.

A spokesman for the Public and Commercial Services Union said: "We do not believe that services to the public should be handed to private companies to line the pockets of shareholders. We fear that the first-rate help and guidance IWM staff currently provide to visitors will suffer."

According to a report in the Guardian, the review could be part of a bigger move at the IWM to change its business model in anticipation of further funding cuts. The paper suggests the museum expects to see a 15% reduction in government funding in 2015/16.

The national museum group received just under £22m in government funding last year, down from nearly £24m in 2011. More than 50% of its income is from commercial activities.

IWM London is currently undergoing a £35m redevelopment, which includes new first world war galleries opening in 2014. It expects to welcome 2.7 million visitors in 2015/16 as a result, up from 2 million in 2012/13.

Comments

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Anonymous
MA Member
29.10.2013, 13:59
This news is such a shame. Museums often don't make the most of their visitor services. When I used to work as a Gallery Attendant I found it very frustrating that we were seen as security guards rather than as front-line museum professionals. There were no development opportunities and when more exciting projects were lauched, such as increased visitor engagement, local university students were drafted in instead of allowing current staff to enhance their experience. Outsourcing visitor services will lead to more of this sort of thing as front-of-house employees are increasingly divorced from the rest of the museum. There is more to visitor-facing work than directing people to the exits and toilets - anyone with experience knows that visitors often ask demanding questions relating to collections. There are many front-of-house staff with excellent collections' knowledge who are able to engage with such visitors and enable them to get the most out of their visit. I very much doubt that a private company could offer this level of service.