A visitor at the Walker Art Gallery, part of National Museums Liverpool

Union highlights devastating cuts

Simon Stephens, 07.05.2014
Report from Prospect shows morale among museum staff is at an all-time low
Budget cuts are having a devastating impact on museum, galleries and heritage sites, according to a report published by the Prospect union based on a survey of its members.

“Members fear the sector is close to reaching tipping point,” says Heritage in a Cold Climate. “Members fear the current losses of jobs and skills will be more keenly felt in the future, when it is too late to do anything about them."

Prospect represents more than 6,000 heritage professionals who work as curators, archaeologists, conservators, museum and gallery assistants. Museums with Prospect members include Imperial War Museum, Museum of London, National Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, National Museums Liverpool, Tate and the three national museums in South Kensington. Nearly 900 people responded to the survey.

The report says that the functions most severely affected by public spending cuts are:

  • recruitment.
  • professional development.
  • academic or historical research.
  • conservation.
  • the restoration and upkeep of built heritage sites.

Heritage in a Cold Climate also highlighted the effect of budget cuts at specific museums.

The report says that since 2010 National Museums Liverpool’s direct funding from government has been cut by 28% in real terms. The impact includes the loss of 90 posts (from 510 to 420).

Prospect also says there have been redundancies at the Museum of London, Royal Museums Greenwich and the Victoria and Albert Museum. Funding cuts at Tate have led to a reduction in programming, jobs and services to the public.


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MA Member
09.05.2014, 17:44
I work at a mid-sized council run museum in Scotland and the key problem is the marginalisation of qualified an knowledgeable staff due to senior management consisting of people without requisite experience, qualifications or interest in running a quality service. Curatorial and front-line morale is woefully low, and is being reflected in the number of people leaving. There is a distinct lack of respect for both of these important staff groups being shown by management who have been transplanted from other departments or hired as last resorts. Some of you may be able to guess to which museum I refer.
08.05.2014, 09:59
We need to maintain a steady flow of professional curators to keep this profession alive. Working with students who long to work in cultural heritage I know that there is no shortage of qualified researchers who would be well suited to taking on the job, but sadly this resource is repeatedly lost to more lucrative career paths.
Malcolm J Watkins
MA Member
Director, Heritage Matters
07.05.2014, 19:14
In some small way this may be partly my fault. When I entered the profession I wanted to increase 'interpretation' and 'access' in a world largely dominated (or perhaps perceived to be) by academic curators for whom making collections more accessible through attractive displays and new methods of attention-grabbing.
Sadly, and definitely not due to just my efforts, the museum world moved towards 'education' and management, with more emphasis on such things as activities and shops often and increasingly at the expense of the core purposes of the museums. Now it is often hard to find souvenirs that have any direct link to the museum, let alone 'academic' works on the collections.
The same malaise has seen the presumption that volunteers are a replacement for paid staff. They rarely match that presumption. Volunteers are (and have been for many decades, including my earliest work) but they need the support and expertise of the specialist curators behind them. Increasingly we see a world in which primary work on collections is either not undertaken or undertaken outside the confines of the museum. As a result, collections atrophy and knowledge becomes frozen in time – whether right or wrong.
The Association should be standing up and loudly calling for the protection and nurturing of traditional curatorial roles involving significant research. Matters have not yet gone too far, but as the current generation of more academic curators departs for the great museum in the sky – or retirement – we are in danger of losing any sense of continuity of understanding, learning, research and wisdom.
MA Member
09.05.2014, 17:46
Absolutely agree, but while I do agree that the Association could do more, I feel that it would largely fall on deaf ears. The people in charge of my museum do not give the publication a second glance.