Department for Culture devolves cultural property responsibility to MLA

Felicity Heywood, Issue 105/6, p6, June 2005
Some cultural property functions, previously undertaken by central government, have been transferred to the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA).

Responsibility for the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, the Government Indemnity Scheme and the Export of Works of Art now sit with the MLA.

All three were previously administered jointly by the MLA and by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Decisions on export licence deferrals for nationally significant artworks will remain with the DCMS.

The move comes as a result of recommendations by Nicholas Goodison in a report to the Treasury in 2004. In that report, Goodison said there was a need to 'reduce confusion, improve knowledge and provide an impartial and free source of authoritative advice and guidance'.

Gerry McQuillan, from the MLA's acquisition, export and loans unit, said the change is important because it provides a unified operation. He said Goodison was trying to achieve a one-stop-shop and streamline a service for the benefit of museums, galleries and private owners.

Nigel Pitman, the head of the DCMS museum and cultural property division, said the DCMS endorsed Goodison's point that undertaking the executive functions 'sat uneasily' with the DCMS, which was otherwise a strategic body.

The MLA has always described itself as a strategic body but McQuillan said: 'We are also an operational body that puts things into practice. If we were purely strategic, we would not be in touch with reality.'

Although the move is generally welcomed by the sector, some have concerns. Charles Saumarez Smith, the director of the National Gallery, said: 'It's good that the DCMS is fulfilling its side and I wish the Treasury would do the same. It should pay close attention to the report it commissioned.'

Maurice Davies, the deputy director of the Museums Association, said: 'It would be nice if the MLA and the DCMS could coordinate an advice point for other aspects of cultural property, such as illicit trade and repatriation.'

The DCMS has transferred seven staff to the MLA to continue working as the secretariat to the reviewing committee on the Export of Works of Art and issuing export licences.

The MLA has announced the shortlist for the 2005 Conservation awards. In the running for the care of collections prize are: the Museum of Rural Life at the University of Reading; the National Railway Museum; and the Museum of London.