Mark Taylor: the proposal is a good idea in the long term

Bill proposes statutory provision

Gareth Harris, Issue 111/01, p10, 04.01.2011
But MA thinks Labour MP's timing is wrong

A bill proposed by a Labour MP last month requiring local authorities to provide cultural services as a statutory provision has been described as “coming at the wrong time” by the Museums Association’s director, Mark Taylor.

The bill, put forward by the Labour MP for Wirral South Alison McGovern, would force authorities to protect cultural services, including museums, galleries and theatres.

McGovern said on her website: “Local authorities have a general duty to provide a library service. They have no responsibility for a wider ‘cultural’ service. This means, as local authorities face tough times with the worst cuts in government, the increased likelihood of a wholesale withdrawal from culture by local authorities.”

She pointed out that the Public Libraries & Museums Act 1964 enables the secretary of state for culture to rule that a local authority is not fulfilling its duty to provide a library service.

“My bill widens provision to the related cultural service,” added McGovern, highlighting cuts in arts funding by Somerset and Bedfordshire local authorities.

Taylor said: “I suspect that McGovern’s plan will meet most resistance from local government, which would have to find extra funding if local authorities were obliged to provide cultural services. Libraries are still under threat, despite the 1964 act.”

“The proposal is, nonetheless, a good idea in the long term,” he added. Former foreign secretary David Miliband, along with Labour MPs Stephen Twigg and Tristram Hunt, back McGovern’s proposal, although there is, reportedly, little government support. 

Julie Finch, head of Bristol museums and archives, said: “A statutory requirement to provide access to and care of collections would not be enough. Transformation and modernisation of museums to meet the needs of the public in new ways has to be central to any statutory requirement.”