Museum workers on strike in front of Cartwright Hall art gallery last November. (c) Neil Terry Photography

Bradford council needs ‘plan B’ for museums if City of Culture bid fails

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 05.03.2020
Union warns that deferred cuts only offer ‘short-term reprieve’
Bradford Council needs to show it has a “plan B” for the city’s museums and galleries if its bid to host the UK City of Culture festival in 2025 fails, a union spokeswoman has warned.

At the end of 2019, the council announced that it would defer a planned £500,000 cut to its museums, galleries and libraries in 2020-21. The decision came after months of strike action by its workforce, who said the council had carried out no meaningful consultation with staff, unions and the public on the plans, and the cuts would “result in services not fit for purpose”. Growing political pressure and support for the strikers from the local community contributed to the council’s U-turn.

The council plans to offset cuts to the library service by diverting funding from its health and wellbeing budget, but future funding for the city's museums and galleries service remains uncertain.

“While this is fantastic news for the Unite members who stayed strong, committed and united against the cuts and Bradfordians who fought to retain their museums service, this is only a short-term reprieve,” said Lauren Padgett, Unite the Union rep for Bradford Museums and Galleries. “Essentially the cuts have just been deferred for one year.”

Padgett said it was clear from recent papers and reports by the council that the future of the museums service “relies heavily on the success of Bradford becoming City of Culture in 2025 and the success of applications to external funders and organisations”.

She said: “What I have stressed to management and senior officers is that while we should be optimistic about the success of the City of Culture bid and applications for funding support, plan A if you will, Bradfordians and staff need to know what an alternative scenario, plan B, will look like if Bradford is unsuccessful in its bid to be City of Culture and if [the museums service] is unsuccessful in securing external support or funding.

“At the moment, there are no details about plan B, how the significant amount of savings will be achieved and what the future museums service will look like. This will need meaningful consultation with staff, stakeholders and the public, as we could be back in position when Bradford Museums and Galleries is facing yet more redundancies, at best reduced site openings, and at worst full site closures.”
 
A spokesman for the council said: “We are currently developing a work programme to plan for the year in which the budget cut is reinstated.

“We will work closely with staff, communities, stakeholders and the public to develop this programme which we hope will create a strong vision and purpose for our museums and galleries service. As part of this process we will of course engage and consult fully with all stakeholders.

“In collaboration with Arts Council England and other funders, the process will link to the City of Culture bid but also be key in moving this highly-valued and well-visited service forward.”

In spite of the temporary reprieve, the museums service was forced to make a number of redundancies at the end of last year due to a £260,000 reduction in its 2019/20 budget. The curatorial team of six subject specialist curators has been reduced to one curator of collections and two new community curators. Several site managers, a technician and an assistant technician/van driver were also made redundant.  

Bradford Museums and Galleries service has suffered heavy cuts in recent years. Its budget has fallen from £3m in 2014/15 to £1.6m in 2019/20. Staff numbers are down from 83 full-time equivalent posts in 2014/15 to 47 this year, with seven of those roles shared between the museum and library service.

Almost half of Bradford’s council-run museums and galleries have closed in the past decade, including Bradford 1 Gallery and Bracken Hall Countryside Museum, both in 2013, and Manor House Museum and Art Gallery, in 2015.

The council currently runs three museums, Bradford Industrial Museum, Bolling Hall Museum and Cliffe Castle Museum, and one art gallery, Cartwright Hall.   

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