Birmingham Museum Trust will not have its council funding cut this year

Birmingham and Walsall row back on proposed museum cuts

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 15.02.2017
Councils alter spending plans following high profile campaigns
Councils in Birmingham and Walsall have dropped plans to make significant cuts to museums in their 2017-18 budgets.

In Birmingham, cabinet members agreed yesterday that Birmingham Museum Trust’s budget would remain the same this year, rowing back on a previous proposal to cut the trust’s funding by £750,000.

This figure included a £250,000 cut that had already been agreed with the trust, plus an additional £500,000 reduction put forward without warning in the council’s pre-Christmas budget consultation.

Campaigners had conducted a high-profile campaign against the proposals, which the trust warned may result in the closure of one or more of its eight sites.

A council spokesman did not comment on the impact of the public campaign, but said: “Clearly a case has been put forward and the council has listened.”

Council leader John Clancy said the local authority had “engaged and consulted with more citizens than ever before” regarding its spending proposals.

“We have listened to the concerns raised in the consultation process and we’ve responded by making significant changes to our initial spending plans, reducing a forecast £78m cut to £70m,” he said.

Birmingham Museum Trust welcomed the council's decision. “We are pleased to confirm that the proposed budget cuts to Birmingham Museums have been removed for the next financial year until March 2018,” said the trust's director Ellen McAdam.
“With over 9,000 signatures on our petition and many letters of support, we would like to thank all of our supporters who have helped to show how valued our city’s museums are and how vital funding support is to their continued success. We would also like to thank our staff for their hard work and dedication throughout the process.

“The reduction announcement means there is no threat to closure of Birmingham Museum Trust’s sites in the next financial year.

“While we are pleased to share this news, funding beyond 2018 is uncertain so we will continue to work with Birmingham City Council to find a solution for our longevity. We remain committed to ensuring Birmingham’s fascinating history can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.”

The budget is due to be ratified at a meeting of the full council on 28 February.

Reprieve for Walsall institutions

Meanwhile Walsall City Council has also reversed controversial proposals to cease its funding for New Art Gallery Walsall and either close Walsall Leather Museum or move it to a smaller site.

The council, which faces cuts of £86m over the coming four years, has committed to securing the gallery’s future with a new business model, which includes a £3.5m bid for National Portfolio Organisation status from Arts Council England.

It has also agreed to keep the leather museum open at its current venue while seeking out new commercial opportunities to maximise its income.  

However the council will go ahead with plans to move the city’s Local History Centre and archive service into the Central Library, as well as closing nine other local libraries. It has raised council tax by 5% to make up some of the budget shortfall.

"Some of the proposals we put forward were controversial and received the response we expected, but at least people could understand the position we're in,” said Ian Shires, the council’s portfolio holder for agenda for change.

“That sparked the interest we needed and sparked a two-way conversation. Out of that have come a number of proposal changes we've been able to make. It can honestly be said, this time around, people have influenced the budget.”

The Museums Association’s (MA) policy officer Alistair Brown said: “There is still some distance to go in securing the future of all of the threatened museums in Birmingham and Walsall, but it’s good to see both councils responding positively to the grassroots campaigns that have sprung up to defend their museums over the course of this winter.

“At the MA we will continue to advocate for the value of all types of museum across the UK, and we will work with local authorities to ensure that museums are viewed as a vital part of local infrastructure.”