Southampton's planned Sea City Museum, which received a £4.9m grant from HLF last year

Private firms bid for £26m contract to run Southampton's museums

Patrick Steel, 10.05.2011
Temporary exhibition programming at Sea City Museum up for tender
Southampton City Council has put the management of its City Art Gallery, Tudor House Museum, and the new Sea City Museum, due to open in 2012, out to tender.

Companies have been asked to bid for a £7m contract to run the Art Gallery and Tudor House Museum, a £19m contract to run Sea City, or a £26m contract to run all three for 20 years.

According to the tender notice, the contracts include responsibility for visitor services management, facilities and premises management, venue marketing, hire and administration, internal maintenance, and retail.

The council would retain responsibility for care of the collections, maintenance of the external fabric of the premises, and education provision. However, the contract for Sea City would include private management of a fixed proportion of temporary exhibition programming.

John Hannides, the council’s cabinet member for resources, leisure and culture, told the Daily Echo that the council’s responsibility over collections and exhibitions was “for the time being”, but would not rule out the outsourcing of “curatorial functions” in the future. A council spokesman confirmed to Museums Journal that “nothing is being ruled out, or ruled in for that matter”.

The spokesman added: “The council has received bids from a number of potential operators and is currently evaluating those bids. We hope to make a decision on the preferred operators in June 2011.”

Maurice Davies, the Museums Association’s head of policy and communications, said: “We would expect that they continue to run the service absolutely in line with the principles of the Code of Ethics, with a commitment to public benefit, broadening audiences and a respect for the past and future as well as the present.

“We hope the values of the Code inform the ethos of whoever runs the service and their relationship with the council.”

The tender notice states: “The key objective of the council in seeking to procure these services is to reduce the net subsidy the council will have to pay for their ongoing operation, increase participation in cultural activity and widen access to arts and heritage facilities for all people in the city.”

The tender process follows difficulties in raising money for the £15m development of the Sea City Museum, which saw the council consider then abandon the sale of artworks from its collection last year to meet a funding shortfall.

Museums Journal reported in January that although £4.9m had been secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the council was still exploring ways of raising the remaining £10m.


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11.05.2011, 15:58
Has any other local authority done this? As the article makes clear, Southampton has form here - it is not doing this for the love of art. As a more-or-less local, I am unaware of any public consultation that took place before putting out to tender. The new building in the photo was begun with unseemly haste before the total funding was in place, probably lest HLF should see the error of its ways and withdraw its offer. Now the council has to find ways of patching up its deficit. The leading councillors get a ribbon to cut and a plaque with their names on while rain continues to come in through the roof of the stunning grade II* listed gallery.