Public satisfaction not guaranteed

Local authority museums and galleries in England have suffered the biggest fall in customer satisfaction of all services, according to …
Jane Morris
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Local authority museums and galleries in England have suffered the biggest fall in customer satisfaction of all services, according to a Best Value Performance Indicator survey, released by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister last month (see news analysis, p10-11). Householders were surveyed in each local authority in England, regardless of whether they used the services in question.

These sort of results inevitably make disappointing reading. But they are not - I am sure most readers will agree - that surprising. Museum managers and their staff have tried hard to run improving services on less and less money.

But the truth is that penny-pinching eventually shows. There is only so much you can do to make things run more effectively with less resources: at some point an 'efficiency saving' becomes a cut.

Meanwhile, competition for people's leisure time grows, while the public expects ever higher standards - whether it is in public healthcare, or just the comfort of their local cinema.

Who these days would put up with the atmospheric, smoky flea pits of the 1970s and 1980s, with their creaky seats and no holder to put your drink in? (Well, in truth, a few of us would still go for that in a retro way, but in these days of Vue multiplexes, we are considered a bit weird.)

Even if you are a committed museum-goer, and happy with older displays and facilities and the general air of 'managing on a shoestring and the enthusiasm of our staff and volunteers', you can't help looking at the levels of investment enjoyed by some of the local museums in Europe.

We have few local museums that compare with some of the new ones that have opened on the continent in recent years - the Latenium in Neuchatel, the Marq in Alicante or the Van Abbe in Eindhoven, to name just a few.

The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is quick - and right - to say that this survey does not show the benefits of Renaissance in the Regions in those areas that got the phase one tranche of money.

But it does mean that Renaissance money is more vital then ever, and that it urgently needs spreading to all the English regions (it could do with spreading further than this, but that is the business of the devolved administrations, which we are also watching closely). The chancellor, Gordon Brown, has singled Renaissance out for a mention in the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement (see opposite). If the money comes, it will not be before time.

o At the time of going to press, the results of the government reshuffle, and any effects on the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, had not been announced but were expected soon. Visit the MA website (www.museumsassociation.org) for up-to-date news on this and other breaking stories.

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