Lancashire council proposes savage cuts to museum service - Museums Association

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Lancashire council proposes savage cuts to museum service

Five museums to close
Lancashire County Council has announced plans to close five museums from 1 April next year, as part of a proposed budget that aims to save £65m across the local authority over the next two years.

The proposal would affect the Museum of Lancashire in Preston; Fleetwood Museum; Queen Street Mill in Burnley; Helmshore Mills Textile Museum; and Judges' Lodgings Museum in Lancaster.

It is not clear what will happen to the two regimental museums housed at the Museum of Lancashire, or to the council-run Higher Mill Trust Museum, which is owned by the trust.

The budget, which has been published online ahead of a council meeting next week, proposes retaining six other museum sites – including Lancaster City Museum and Lancaster Castle – that are run by the council on behalf of other organisations.

But five of these will have to fully cover their costs through a new charging policy, expected to be implemented from 1 April 2016.

“In the event of the retained museums being unable to fully cover their costs, including full overhead recovery, these museums will be handed back to their owners by 31 March 2017,” the budget states.

The council’s remaining cultural venue, Gawthorpe Hall near Burnley, is excluded from the plans because the council is contractually committed to run the service. However, the council said that it would look for the Jacobean historic house to cover its costs through charges if possible.

The council will hold a public consultation into the proposed closures, which will consider alternative service delivery models, including their operation by local communities and interest groups.

A staff consultation will take place before the end of this year, and statutory redundancy consultation with trade unions will start in January.

A £500,000 provision will be made available to cover part-year costs pending a consultation and the time required to implement the closures, the council said.

The council had previously budgeted £1.2m for cultural services in 2015-16, rising slightly to £1.3m by 2017-18. If the cuts go ahead, spending will reduce to £98,000 in 2017-18 – a saving of £1.13m.

The proposals follow an announcement in August that the council would need to save an additional £262m by April 2020 to “tackle a funding gap caused by reduced government funding and rising demand for services”.

This is on top of the £152m of savings announced in the three-year budget agreed in February this year. The additional savings mean that between 2011 and 2020 the council will need to deliver savings of £685m.

Jennifer Mein, the leader of Lancashire County Council, said in a statement: "These are the most challenging times for local government in living memory as we face the combination of relentless central government cuts and rising demand for our services, particularly those serving vulnerable people.

"The reality of our financial situation is such that we will have to use the bulk of our reserves just to balance the budget over the next two years. And by 2017-18, we will only just have enough money to pay for our statutory services.

"At the same time, the government has made clear that it will make further substantial cuts to council budgets over the coming years.”

Alistair Brown, the Museums Association’s (MA) policy officer, said: “Lancashire County Council’s proposal is the latest and most damaging in a swathe of recently announced cuts to museum services. The MA has been warning for some time that the level of cuts to local authority budgets would result in the closure of some civic museums.

“We urge the Treasury to limit the impact on these important local assets as it prepares to announce the results of the spending review later this month. The alternative is a hollowing out of Britain’s cultural institutions.”

The council’s budget also proposes axing the Heritage and Arts Service, which promotes museum and library collections, from April 2016.


Lancashire County Council's proposed budget for cultural services (pdf)

Petition: Save Lancashire's Mill Museums

Petition: Save Lancashire's heritage from council cuts

Facebook group: Save Lancashire's Mill Museums

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