Council warns it may cease funding Snibston Discovery Museum

Geraldine Kendall, 04.07.2014
Friends group accuses councillors of moving the goalposts
The Friends of Snibston group, which is campaigning against a proposal to downsize Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville, has accused Leicestershire County Council of "moving the goalposts" after the council warned that it may cease all funding for the museum.
 
The Conservative-run council has said it needs to cut at least £240,000 from the museum’s budget, and is consulting on plans to demolish the existing building and open a smaller museum of mining heritage at an adjoining site.
 
The Friends group, which is putting together an alternative plan to run the existing museum as a charitable trust, received a letter from council leader Nicholas Rushton last week stating: “If you are intending to produce a business plan, it is only fair to advise you that I can give no guarantee that the county council will be able to sustain subsiding at any level.”
 
Friends of Snibston chair Brian Vollar told Museums Journal that the council’s statement contradicted its own proposals, which pledge approximately £350,000 a year towards the running of the museum.
 
Vollar said: “They are moving the goalposts - their proposal offers continuing subsidy, now they’re saying there’s no guarantee of any subsidy. It looks like they wouldn’t fund a trust at all.”
 
The council claims that while the new museum will cost £1.2m upfront, it will save a substantial amount in the longer term, cutting running costs down from a projected £900,000 a year for the existing museum. That figure is disputed by the Friends group, which says it also includes the cost of other facilities on the site.
 
If the larger building were demolished, the council would have to dispose of most of the museum’s remaining collections, which include medieval objects as well as science, technology, design and fashion collections. It would also face repaying a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant.
 
The Friends group has argued that the council’s plans would result in a major loss of visitors, income and learning opportunities to the region and have a damaging knock-on effect on the local economy.
 
The council has also been accused of manipulating the public consultation on the museum’s future. Friends of Snibston sent a letter to its members last month saying councillors had already made up their minds to downsize the museum and criticising the council for misrepresenting information and including leading questions in the online questionnaire on the museum’s future.
 
Friends of Snibston, whose campaign has received cross-party support from local MPs, added that the council was being obstructive in releasing information and financial data that would assist with the trust proposal.
 
The Museums Association’s president David Anderson has also criticised the council’s conduct. He said: “The council's 'consultation' on the future of Snibston is full of leading questions and misleading information. This is a disgrace. If they are confident of their argument, they should present all options - including keeping the museum open as it is - fairly and equally.
 
“To close galleries and have to hand back money to HLF would deter all major funders from supporting the area in the future.”
 
The Friends group has met councillors twice to discuss their concerns. Vollar said the meetings were a positive step forward which indicated that council might “allow the possibility” of a trust, particularly in the face of public opposition to their proposals.
 
The consultation is due to close on 7 July.

Comments

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Luanne Meehitiya
MA Member
Natural Sciences Curator, Birmingham Museums Trust
09.07.2014, 20:21
I grew up in Coalville and my parents still live there. Like many local people they are dismayed by this and feel absolutely powerless. The council has done everything possible to give the impression it is a done deal for months now. What this article doesn't express is what a down-beat area this ex-coalmining town is. Growing up, Snibston discovery was the only place of interest for miles around. It is so important for lifting aspirations in the area. The article also doesn't mention that the closure of the museum is surely also linked to desire to continue building works that have been steadily encroaching all around the museum and surrounding nature reserve.
Tim Schadla-Hall
MA Member
Reader in Public Archaeology, University College London
09.07.2014, 18:16
The questionnaire is an appalling document-and is dangerously biased and misleading-and is clearly designed foor a single result.
07.07.2014, 22:14
Hmmm and I see Heather Broughton, great champion of museums in Leicestershire, has left the County Council.