Better measures needed for local authority museums

The Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) - the evaluation of local government services - does not provide any 'significant conclusions' for the museum sector, according to Paul Raynes, the programme director responsible for culture, tourism and sport at the Local Government Association (LGA).
Patrick Steel
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The latest CPA results from the Audit Commission show that only 56 per cent of councils were awarded three or four stars for culture this year, compared with 68 per cent last year.

Within these results, the indicators for museums are based on accreditation, visitor figures and visitor satisfaction and are only a small part of the overall picture, said Raynes. He added: 'There are 29 indicators and about half of them are to do with libraries. Museums are not a major component.'

A spokeswoman for the Audit Commission said the assessment was geared this way to 'reflect national priorities by focusing on libraries and sport among other things', but the commission will be consulting this spring on the principles for the Comprehensive Area Assessment, which will replace the CPA in 2009. The spokeswoman said it will be 'focused on communities rather than services'.

The data relating to museums shows that 79 per cent of museums are accredited, while visitor satisfaction with museums and galleries dropped by 1 per cent between 2003/04 and 2006/07.

Helen Wilkinson, the Museums Association's policy officer, said: 'The CPA only has another two years left at most, so we should focus on making sure that the new measurements are an accurate reflection of museums' work.'

Jane Arthur, the head of collections services at Birmingham Museums, agreed: 'The measures have to be meaningful to the people who matter, in the main your visitors. The plea is for meaningful measures that are robust in the way you set the baselines and measure change.'

Paul Bristow, a policy adviser at the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), said there was also a need for more information on museums at local authority level. 'We know what they [local authorities] spend on schools, but there's no data available on discretionary services,' he said.

Bristow also highlighted a concern about cultural services compared with other local authority services in the run up to the Comprehensive Spending Review. He said: 'There is a general issue to make sure the gains are protected and local authorities don't use it as an excuse for swinging the axe.'

Patrick Steel

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