Reading Museum. Image provided by Reading Borough Council

Reading Museum faces funding cuts

Nicola Sullivan, 11.08.2015
Loss of Accreditation highlighted as a potential risk of cost cutting
Reading Borough Council has proposed cuts to its museum service that could see six jobs lost and a greater reliance on volunteers. 

Staff working at Reading Museum, located in the town hall, are currently being consulted on plans to make savings of £100,000 in 2016/17 and a further £50,000 in 2017/18, according to a report outlining the council’s budget proposals.  

In 2015/16 the expenditure for the town hall and the museum was £1,717,100.

The proposed cost savings would result in six jobs being lost at the museum, which has so far been largely unaffected by budget cuts, the report states. Also being considered are changes to opening hours and an increased use of volunteers.

The council also said that work needed to be done to ensure the cuts did not affect the museum's Accreditation with Arts Council England.

“Loss of Accreditation at the museum is a potential risk that would undermine reputation and future funding opportunities from the arts council and the Heritage Lottery Fund,” stated the report.

Another risk cited in the report is that the cuts would affect the museum's role in a project to restore and redevelop Reading’s Abbey Quarter.

Initial funding for restoration has already been secured from HLF. Work has started on providing educational activities, improved signage and public events relating to the heritage site.

“Reducing staffing capacity at the museum would provide sensitivities in relation to HLF and the Abbey ruins restoration as the museum is integral to delivering associated interpretation and activity programmes,” the report states.

The proposed budget cuts could also affect the delivery of the museum’s loan box service and there will be less capacity to run community outreach projects.

The council is also looking at ways to increase income for the museum. These include relaunching its Flying Objects scheme, which allows local businesses to display artefacts on their premises, and further optimising the use of space in the town hall. 

The staff consultation on the changes will end in October and a public consultation will begin in November. If approved the cost reductions and redundancies will be effective from March.

Comments

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20.08.2015, 11:56
How I agree with all the below comments. My advice is sit tight and object in the strongest possible terms - the Friends by setting up pressure groups, raising local and national press and highlighting the fact that museum staff are no doubt, as was the case in Northampton, not allowed to comment openly on the issue.
Do hold up the case of Northampton Borough Council and the sale of Sekhemka as the horrendous example of what Reading Borough Council risk by cutting funding and being underhand with the truth: a likely loss of Accreditation and outside funding (Northampton have lost all theirs), a rapid decline in museums services (the standard of exhibitions at Northampton's museums has declined dramatically) including the outreach and education ones. Local Authorities seem to regard culture as unimportant not understanding that a healthy Local Authority is one that has a vibrant cultural policy through its museum or other cultural services.
I think that the only way out of this is for Friends organisations to demand that all Local Authorities who run cultural services draw up a political charter across the political spectrum that sets out exactly what the LA commits to in money and support; this charter ought to be renewed in each budget and ALL councillors who sign it should be held to personal account publicly if the charter is not upheld.
It is time we stand up to be counted safeguarding our local,national culture and our past, all of which we hold in trust for future generations.
15.08.2015, 10:13
Ann, the answer is I think to raise profile in the area and nationally in this issue to ensure that the facts are conveyed concerning the real impact of these cuts, with the real passion with which you have conveyed the feeling of the museum friends group. The service has been subject to cuts since 2009 which directly contradicts the Council's own statement in it's consultation that 'the museum has so far not been subject to cuts'. Equally it is very important that the impact on the museum is shown to achieve very little in terms of overall gain for the council. A 30% cut to the museum service seems to equate to only a 0.35% overall reduction in the council's identified savings. Given Reading wishes to be seen as a centre for both business and culture, the cuts to the service contradict the council's own identified strategic aims for the town. Also, there is an admission that more can be made of commercial activities in the Town Hall.

I think more needs to be made of this kind of proposed cut to local services achieving so much with so little investment at a national level. When a museum which has set the standards for outreach, access and learning is under threat, the impact of that loss to the local community, local economy, schools, other statutory responsibilities of the authority (archaeological archiving) and future business and cultural aims needs to be stressed. I would hate to see this museum reduced in the manner suggested under the lie that it has not already been subject to cuts.
Anonymous
MA Member
14.08.2015, 08:12
From Ann Middleton, Chair, Friends of Reading Museum

The Friends of Reading Museum were dismayed to see the proposals to cut Reading Museum service reported on the Museums Association’s website yesterday morning.
Whilst the Museum & Town Hall expenditure was £1.7m last year the majority of this budget is spent maintaining a complex listed Victorian building and running a conferencing, events and concert programme. The actual cost of running the Museum service is in the region of £450,000 and the proposed cuts would therefore reduce this by one-third.

Far from being “largely unaffected” by budget cuts the Museum budget has been significantly reduced over the last few years as it was one of the first services that the Council reduced. The Museum has already changed all aspects of delivery of services to cope with these earlier cuts and staff roles have been restructured to cover posts lost in earlier reductions.

The Museum is reliant on grants, friends, volunteers and partnerships to deliver its ambitions as well as its forward-looking public programme. Therefore it is essential to keep the small handful of core staff who make these collaborations possible – initiating, managing and delivering.

Reading Museum has managed these changes and it is thriving. 110,000 gallery visitors were recorded in the last year plus it has offered a full and lively service of community projects, worldwide enquiries, temporary exhibitions, loans and education services.

We sympathise that, following cuts in funding from Central Government, Reading Borough Council has a huge task to save over £39m in the next three years and, like all Councils, this can, by and large, only be funded by reducing discretionary services.

However, we believe that the proposed cuts to the service may result in irreparable damage to the services offered by this celebrated Museum.

Having already made considerable savings in recent years we feel that the current level of funding to the Museum provides excellent value to the people of Reading and as such should be maintained at its current level.

Ann Middleton, Chair, Friends of Reading Museum
www.readingmuseum.org.uk/get-involved/friends
13.08.2015, 08:17
Reading Museum is the hub of knowledge in the Berkshire area and their vast collections covers all periods and places. Their loans collection is one of the biggest and is instrumental to so many communities.

The museum also has one of the best volunteer programmes and volunteers have gone on to a successful role in museums.

I appreciate that every council has to tighten its belt. But the potential of the loss of some of museum services is a massive concern.

My main concern is the care and management of the vast collection held by the Museum.
12.08.2015, 14:25
Reading Museum is an absolutely fantastic museum service, which has acted a model for best practice to a number of regional museums for many, many years. The museum has proved through its outreach projects and volunteering programmes the number of very real benefits that the service has brought to local (and wider) communities, and it has consistently adapted and embraced change wherever possible while remaining innovative and inclusive - Reading Museum has set benchmarks that other museums aspire to follow.

The museum is a credit to Reading Borough Council and to the museum profession. Although all museums face tough times ahead, given the contribution the museum has made to the Borough's on-going commitments to community wellbeing, its role in building a strong identity for Reading as both a cultural and business centre, and the crucial contribution the museum continues to make to funded projects linked to the Abbey and its potential to continue to deliver into the future, it would be a great loss to Reading and the wider South-East were the museum service to be hit hard. It is reassuring however to see that the Council's document acknowledges the genuine risks in cutting the museum service and the associated loss of expertise this would bring. Fingers crossed they recognise the valuable and tangible contribution the museum makes to their area.