A sweet machine on display at the Museum of Lancashire, which the council wants to close in April

Five Lancashire museums in last chance saloon

Nicola Sullivan, 12.02.2016
Third parties have six weeks to express an interest in running the museums that will close in April
Five museums in Lancashire will close unless alternative bodies come forward to run them after the council approved its budget for 2016-17 yesterday.

Lancashire County Council has ratified the closures of the Museum of Lancashire in Preston, Fleetwood Museum, the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and Judges’ Lodgings Museum in Lancaster and the Queen Street Mill in Burnley.

The museums will close from 1 April unless alternative arrangements are made to run them independently from the local authority. 

Lancashire County Council has asked organisations or individuals interested in running any of the museum services to make contact by 27 March. 

Fleetwood Town Council is submitting a declaration of interest in running the Fleetwood Museum.

Terry Rogers, the chairman of Fleetwood Council, told Museums Journal in March that reserve funds and an increase in the council tax precept for Fleetwood would make this possible. Rogers said it would cost between £82,000 and £105,000 a year to run the museum.

“Our main concern is not to have [the museum] closed over the spring and summer period because of the trustees and volunteers. We don’t want to lose the continuity of the museum. We have got future plans to use part of the building for community work,” he said.

The approval of the budget also means that five other museums, including Lancaster Castle and Lancaster City Museum, will have to fully cover their costs by reviewing entry charges and maximising their income. The museums will have to implement a new charging policy from 1 April.

Lancashire County Council's financial strategy report, published towards the end of last year, concluded that over the five years from 2016-17 to 2020-21 the council needed to make savings of £262m on top of those previously agreed. To this end the 2016-17 budget is bringing in savings of £64.2m.

Jennifer Mein, the leader of Lancashire County Council, said: “We’ve had no choice but to cut a number of services that people value because the council simply can’t afford to deliver them anymore.

"I cannot explain just how difficult it is to make decisions like these and yet the reality is that there are more ahead as the council will have to find a further £200m of savings by 2020.

“We also need to spend the council’s useable reserves to balance the budget over the next two years and it is not clear at this point how we will be able to deliver even statutory services beyond that point.”  

Lancashire County Council will develop an exit plan for closing the museums by the end of the March, but it has not yet confirmed what will happen to the collections.

No figures have yet been released on how much it will cost to store the collections or provide security for the Queen Street Mill and Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, which are both Designated, due to the fact they are original machines, still in working order and preserved in situ.

Sarah Hardy, who used to work for the Helmshore Textiles Museum, said: “The collections at Helmshore are enormous bits of machinery, so storage isn’t really an option.

“I think the cost of keeping museums like the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum and the Queen Street Mill closed will probably be higher than keeping them open.

“There is going to have to be security staff on site for 24 hours a day and obviously that’s not to mention shutting down costs and redundancy fees.  Also, making sure the building is watertight and fireproofed has huge cost implications, even if you don't have people going through the building.”

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