National Museum Cardiff

Welsh Assembly Members clash over heritage merger

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 16.11.2016
Proposal 'unprecedented' in UK sector, says MA director
Assembly Members (AM) in Wales have voiced their opposition to proposals to merge the commercial functions of several heritage institutions, including Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales (NMW) and Cadw, under a single body that would be called Historic Wales.

Several culture sector bodies, including the Museums Association (MA), have warned that the move would threaten the independence of the institutions involved by bringing some of their operations under direct governmental control.

At a Senedd debate on the issue last week, the Conservative AM Suzy Davies called for the merger plan to be taken off the table, saying it should be up to individual institutions to decide themselves “when the integrity of heritage conservation and interpretation will rub against commercial opportunities”.

Plaid Cymru’s Dai Lloyd, who called the debate, has previously described the proposals as “rushed and ill-thought out” and accused ministers of an unacceptable lack of consultation, saying they should “pay heed to the heritage sector’s concerns”.
 
Lloyd said the issue would be one of his party’s red lines, and that Plaid AMs, who have an arrangement to support the minority Labour government in Wales, would vote against the proposal if it was put to the Senedd.
 
But the economy secretary Ken Skates, who is responsible for the heritage portfolio, said fears about the proposal were “unfounded”.

Skates told BBC Wales last week that the new body would encourage greater collaboration and attract more funding to the sector.

"It's not a question of whether institutions should remain independent, of course they should. It's about how they can work together to benefit the entire sector," he said.

A steering group is currently looking at which functions should be merged. Speaking to BBC Wales earlier this week, AM Dafydd Elis-Thomas criticised those opposed to the merger for undermining the work of the group.

"My understanding is all the national institutions are now participating and I don't think it's for assembly members to try to undermine a process which is trying to prepare the ground for a more effective use of public resources," he said.

The MA’s director Sharon Heal reiterated the association’s opposition to the merger, saying the proposal would undermine NMW’s ability to raise its own income, decide its exhibition programming and form partnerships with communities and local museums across Wales.

Heal said the move was “completely unprecedented” in any part of the UK. “Governments in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland respect and celebrate the independence of their national institutions and in particular, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, understand the role that they play in nation-building, and I would hope that the government in Wales would respect that in Wales as well."

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