News analysis: HLF consults over future aims - Museums Association

News analysis: HLF consults over future aims

HLF seeks advice on spending priorities from 2013 onwards
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Simon Stephens
At a time when many museums and galleries are having to do more with less, it’s encouraging that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is doing more with more.

A combination of strong sales of lottery tickets, increased income once the lottery has paid its share of costs to the 2012 Olympics, and the government upping the share of lottery money going to heritage, has meant the HLF will have an annual awards budget of about £300m from 2013 onwards, up from £205m for 2010-11.
And it has just launched a consultation on how it should spend this enlarged budget.

It all sounds like great news but it’s not that simple. The rise in HLF money has to be seen in the context of sharp falls in the overall amount of money coming into heritage.

HLF chairwoman Jenny Abramsky points out in her introduction to the consultation that government spending cuts “will mean there will be around £700m a year less in public investment in heritage across the UK during the next five years”.

The HLF wants to find out what heritage organisations and the public think its priorities should be in a financial environment where other sources of public investment are becoming increasingly scarce.

The HLF consultation is a wide one and opens up lots of new areas that the HLF could start funding. These include more support for acquisitions; philanthropy; digital initiatives; skills; and addressing climate change. The types of organisations that the HLF funds are fairly broad, with museums fighting for funding alongside libraries, archives, historic buildings, monuments, parks and places of worship.

There are lots of hungry mouths to feed and presumably each sector will make a persuasive case for more funding. But they can’t all be big winners.

The difficult decisions the HLF has to make are not only about which types of heritage to fund. There is also the question of how to balance support for past projects with investing in future schemes.

Anticipating the tough times ahead, one of the questions in the consultation asks whether the HLF should give more priority to ensuring the financial stability of organisations that have already received lottery money. If the answer is yes, how would it do this?

It’s unthinkable that the HLF is going to become like Arts Council England, which has range of regularly funded organisations that it supports with core funding.

But the consultation does mention endowments, which the HLF is already permitted to fund, although it has done so rarely in the past (the National Trust’s Tyntesfield near Bristol is one example) as they need substantial amounts to have a material effect on running costs.

In 2009, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, for example, had an endowment of just under $400m that covered about 10% of its expenditure.

The issue of supporting operating costs is tricky. It could be a big drain on resources but on the other hand the HLF wouldn’t want one of its high profile projects to go to the wall.

There is a lot in the HLF consultation that will appeal to museums and galleries. One question asks if there should be a simplified approach to grants under £10,000 and this will surely be supported. There is also a plan to create a single round application for grants from £10,000 to between £50,000 and £200,000.

For larger grants (over £50,000), the HLF says it has already reduced the amount of work that needs to done for a first-round applications and has  lowered the amount of partnership funding required.

But some in museums feel that making an application for a larger grant is too onerous for small organisations, although others feel the paperwork is about right for the amounts of money on offer.

Another welcome proposal is to fund projects that are purely digital for the first time. (Museums Journal is hosting a roundtable on digital innovation in partnership with the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the results will be published in April.)

More support for acquisitions is also on the agenda. The consultation points to Collecting Cultures, a one-off scheme launched in 2007 to support strategic collections development programmes.

It offered grants of £50,000-£200,000 and was popular among the 22 museums that took part, as once they were given the money they had the freedom to go ahead and make acquisitions rather than seek HLF approval for each one.

The consultation also talks about whether it should do more to solicit applications to focus funding on strategic priorities. But some in the sector feel that it is not the organisation’s role to pick and choose what areas to fund.

Overall, concerns centre on whether the HLF will spread itself too thinly. The consultation suggests that the organisation should change its three strategic aims of conservation, participation and learning to the single aim of “making a positive and lasting difference for heritage and people”. This is a very broad remit.

Whatever happens with the consultation’s results, the HLF will continue to be important for museums. It’s difficult to imagine the sector without the £4.5bn that the HLF has invested in the whole of UK heritage, which has supported more than 30,000 projects.

The deadline for contributions to the HLF consultation is 26 April.

HLF funding to March 2010
Historic buildings and monuments          
Value (£m) 1,649.03
% of total 36.7

Industrial maritime and transport
Value (£m) 370.91
% of total 8.2

Intangible heritage (oral history, etc)
Value (£m) 214.91
% of total 20.8

Museums libraries archives and collections
Value (£m)
% of total 29.5

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