We may have a coalition government, but it seems to have bypassed the formation of the new-look Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
The secretary of state for culture, olympics, media and sport, Jeremy Hunt, and the three ministers in the department, including Ed Vaizey, the minister for culture, communications and creative industries, are all Conservatives.
However this might not make much difference to the policy landscape under which museums will have to operate for the five years planned by the coalition.
The Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos were very close to each other (see link below) and Jeremy Hunt’s speech at London arts venue the Roundhouse last month, outlining the coalition plans, reiterated much from the original documents.
But big reductions in budgets are what’s on everyone’s minds. The details of the £6bn cross-departmental cuts for 2010-11 were announced as Museums Journal went to press.
Hunt’s department of culture suffered an £88m cut, which includes £27m taken from the Olympic budget. This means budgets already allocated to national museums and regional museums through Renaissance may have to be clawed back.
Hunt’s keynote speech concentrated on the arts, with few references to museums. What mention there was related to the nationals and free entry. Neither Renaissance or the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) figured in his speech.
So what do some of those in the regions think about what the new government will mean for them? There is the ever-present expectation, and almost resignation, that museums are seen as easy targets for cuts by local authorities.
But while there are worries about already squeezed, smaller museums, the likelihood of cuts to exhibition or education budgets, reduced opening hours, natural wastage through not filling vacant posts, and even closures, there is also an attitude of looking for the opportunity.
A member of staff from a larger local authority museum said it was about individual institutions asking themselves basic questions about why they are here as well as partnership working within councils and across cultural disciplines, which could become the norm.
There were mixed responses to relaxing targets, which was a manifesto commitment of the Tories and the Lib Dems. One museum professional in the south west said Renaissance in the Regions was hampered by targets, adding that it had stopped permanent investment in the infrastructure and been more about project work.
Another view was that targets or benchmarking were necessary for direction but it should be more about quality rather than numbers.
Again, there was a mixed response from the sector to the MLA not being mentioned in Hunt’s speech or the coalition document. A body that represents the sector in Westminster has been seen as hugely important, but there were questions over the MLA model now in existence.
The practical advice that MLA gives on capital taxes and government indemnity was acknowledged. One museum manager envisaged a strategic museums and archives body working more with the built environment and English Heritage.
In this period of flux and uncertainty, museum federations with a strong regional presence, national organisations that represent museum staff and institutions, such as the Museums Association, and museum development officers will be all the more necessary.
What Hunt said at a glance
• The government’s commitment to the arts goes right to the top
• Promise that culture will not be singled out as a soft target
• Support for the mixed economy
• Subsidising cultural life is one of the best investments we can make in this country
• The subsidised sector can help set exciting talents on the path to global commercial success
• Support for free admission
• Cultural policy will continue to take a front seat in economic, education and regeneration policy-making
• Cuts in administration and bureaucracy will always be considered ahead of decisions that could affect creative output
• Reform the way the arts is funded with a 20-year strategy
• Reform of the National Lottery to be implemented between 2010 and 2012
• Big Lottery Fund to focus exclusively on voluntary and community organisations.
Arts manifestos toe the party line, Museums Journal April 2010, p15