Norwich Castle. Photographer: Tom Mackie

Norfolk museums asked to model 25% cut

Rebecca Atkinson, 21.10.2015
Council considers running “basic” service at seven sites
Norfolk County Council is considering restructuring its museum service to focus on just three sites, with a “basic” service offered at the majority of the museums it runs.

The move, which would save £652,000 by 2018-19, is part of measures being considered by the council to reduce spending by £111m over the next three years.

The council has asked all its departments to identify ways to reduce spending by 25%.

The Communities Committee, which looks after cultural services, has submitted papers outlining some of the measures it could take to cut its budget by 25%.

This includes redesigning the museums service to focus on the three main sites: Norwich Castle, Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse, and Time and Tide in Great Yarmouth.

The seven other council-run museums – the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell; Strangers' Hall, Norwich; Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, Norwich; Lynn Museum, St, King's Lynn; Elizabethan House Museum, Great Yarmouth; the Tolhouse, Great Yarmouth; and Cromer Museum – would be cut to offer a “basic level of service”.

The paper does not offer any details of what a basic level of service might look like, but acknowledges that the proposal is high-risk, with potential impact on other departments such as children’s services because museum staff would not be available to support school visits.

Another proposal outlined in the papers is to extend lone working across the 10 museums “where it is safe to do so”. The move, which would mean having one member of staff on site, would save the council £50,000 in 2016-17.

Norfolk Record Office could see opening hours reduced by 42% to two days a week, changes to its conservation and archive work, which would save up to £148,000 by 2018-19. And 27 of the county’s 47 libraries could be closed by 2018-19 in order to save £1.59m.

The Communities Committee’s proposals will be debated today, before the council's Policy and Resources Committee meet on 26 October to look at all the proposals put forward by departments.

Members of this committee will then decide which ones will be taken forward for full public consultation later in the year.

Norfolk Museums Service receives just under £3m a year from Norfolk County Council. It has an annual turnover of about £8m, which includes money from Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund grants as well as admission, catering and retail income.

Steve Miller, the head of Norfolk Museums Service, said he hoped that recent increases in self-generated income and visitor numbers would continue, which would help offset the worst of public funding cuts.

He added that proposals have avoided closing sites or reducing opening hours, which would have a negative impact on public perception as well as potential income generation.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: “While the predicted shortfall for the next three years for the county council is forecast to be £111m, councillors asked departments to show them what their services would look like if they were ran with 75% of their current budget.

“A 25% budget cut would deliver savings across the council of £169m, which is over and above what we need to find, but councillors are being provided with this information so they can have choices and options about how best to prioritise council spending across all our services.

“We understand people have strong feelings about these services, but we need to be clear that the proposals being outlined – and discussions about them – are just one step in the process and no decisions have been made at this stage.”

Comments

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02.12.2015, 22:08
Typical shortsighted throw the baby out with the bathwater local Council mentality. People of Norfolk, change your Council as quickly as possible to protect your Heritage. If you don;t care about it they certainly will not care about you. They will doubltess build another football ground to throw your culture and heritage into the arena for slaughtering.
Anonymous
MA Member
17.11.2015, 06:55
The government has just invested £3millon to train specialists in Iraq to restore archeological sites. Whilst I support this aid, I do believe it should not be at the expense of losing our own heritage sites. Perhaps museums could look at joint fundraising enterprises with local charities and split the profits? Or seek other corporate fundraising initiatives, we have many companies purely interested in profit - maybe it's time they supported our communities by investing in our heritage?
Anonymous
MA Member
17.11.2015, 11:43
Sending specialists to Iraq is a dramatic gesture. Governments like this kind of thing because it makes them look good and it makes people think they are doing something important to counteract terrorism and conserve culture. All they want is to be seen to be doing something, so the electorate think they are concerned and care about things. By contrast, supporting local museums by not cutting a few posts which cost a paltry £20K or so each is not a dramatic gesture. However much it may damage the workforce and the people of Norfolk, it won't make the national news if someone in Norfolk is not made redundant, so the publicity the government can get from doing this is limited. Therefore they are less bothered about it....
Anonymous
MA Member
21.10.2015, 13:07
When there are no cultural spaces left because everything has been sold off/run into the ground, perhaps then this government might value what it had and understand that there is a value to some things beyond the purely financial, but I doubt it. I hope the people of Norfolk love their museums enough to protest about this situation.