Stoke-on-Trent under pressure to set up museums trust - Museums Association

Stoke-on-Trent under pressure to set up museums trust

Fears for museums as council looks to cut costs
Nicola Sullivan
Campaigners are urging Stoke-on-Trent City Council to set up a charitable trust to run its museums.

Last month the council’s cabinet approved plans to consult with the public and council employees on different ways to run its leisure and culture service that would deliver savings of £600,000 in 2015/16. The staff consultation ends on 15 May and the public consultation ends on 31 May.

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery and the Gladstone Pottery Museum are being considered for one of three options: a community interest company (CiC), a charitable trust or a local authority trading company.

The Friends of the Potteries Museums and Art Gallery has launched an online petition urging museums to be run as a charitable trust as it would enable them to attract funding through grants, donations and Gift Aid.

Ian Lawley, the chairman of the Friends' group, said: “It is vitally important that the city council makes the right decision, otherwise our museums could fail.”

“No significant regional museum has become a CiC, while a number of small museums set up in this way have already failed. A joint CiC for leisure and museums could be a disaster. Leisure services and museums are very different from each other, with very different aims, needs and audiences. We hope that the council will listen to people who actually know and care passionately about museums.”

A spokesman at Stoke-on-Trent City Council said a wide range of options were being considered, including different arrangements for leisure and culture services. He said the council was “keeping a very broad mind” while at the same time having to save money in ways that do not reduce services or cut jobs.

However, a council report outlining the three options, which was approved by cabinet on 17 March, said that although the full savings of £600,000 could be achieved through a charitable trust any assets transferred to the charity would become locked in, making it more difficult to change the structure of these services should a more "beneficial" option emerge in the future.

It also said that a charitable trust would limit the council's ability to influence decision making to just 20% membership of the charity’s board.   

The report also said that a CiC would generate the full £600,000 of savings through reduced business rates and VAT benefits and safeguard around 160 full-time jobs. This option would also allow the council to retain "overall strategic control" of the services and retain responsibility for buildings, which could be taken on by the CiC at a later date if appropriate.

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