Brighton Museum and Art Gallery

Brighton and Hove museums to transfer to independent trust

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 17.10.2018
Council votes in favour of single-purpose trust model
Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and Museums service (RPM) is to transfer to an independent trust after councillors voted in favour of the move last week.

The service, which is run by Brighton and Hove City Council and manages five museums and several listed buildings in the area, will become a single-purpose museum trust by the end of March 2021.

It comes after a controversial proposal to merge the service with Brighton Dome and Festival was postponed earlier this year when some RPM staff threatened to take industrial and legal action.

An independent review was then commissioned to assess the governance models that would best ensure the long-term sustainability of the service.

The review rejected the Brighton Dome merger and recommended transferring the service to a “single purpose” charitable operation, concluding that: “The assets and the audiences of RPM mean it is potentially well placed to exploit the benefits of trust status.”

The report found that the move to trust would require an initial investment of £300,000 from the council, but forecast that it would have produced a net cost benefit of £674,000 by 2023-24.

The report also found that staff at the service had demonstrated “very clear support for RPM’s greater independence from the council”, noting that they had expressed “frustrations about the process to date and are understandably keen to see the matter settled”.
A member of staff at the service, who wished to remain anonymous, told Museums Journal that there was a broad consensus among staff in favour of the proposed model.

But concerns remain about a year-long improvement plan imposed by the council to make the service “change-ready” prior to moving to trust status, a delay that runs contrary to the timetable recommended by the independent review.

The improvement plan aims to address “vulnerabilities” in the service such as budget management, skills gaps in staff, outstanding collections management documentation, and out-of-date IT equipment.

But the member of staff said there was no clear rationale for the delay, describing the concerns raised in the improvement plan as irrelevant or trivial.

The source said: “The council's decision to move RPM to a single-purpose trust is good news, as the majority of staff want this option. However, many of us are worried about the timescale imposed by council directors. The year-long 'improvement plan' was not a recommendation of the independent review and doesn't have much to do with becoming a trust.

“It adds further delay to the process, and many of us fear this is just a means of taking reprisals against those who objected to the Brighton Dome merger. That might sound paranoid, but staff have very little trust in the directors running this process."

The service improvement plan will be implemented by September 2019, and the transfer to trust will take place over the subsequent two years.

A spokesman for the council said: "The timescale is purely to address the issues mentioned in the report that went to committee last week. We have to set up everything from scratch and make sure it is robust."