Independent review of NMW announced - Museums Association

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Independent review of NMW announced

Announcement made as Welsh heritage bodies reject formal merger
An independent review into the strategy and operations of Amgueddfa Cymru-National Museum Wales (NMW) was announced last week by the Welsh economy secretary Ken Skates.

The review will be carried out by Simon Thurley, who has previously been the chief executive of English Heritage and director of the Museum of London, and will take account of a wider ongoing shakeup of the heritage sector in Wales.

NMW has been through a period of upheaval in recent years as it has sought to address cuts in its budget. 35 jobs were cut in a restructure in 2013, and in December last year NMW announced it had deleted nine curatorial and learning posts. In June last year, David Anderson, the museum’s director general, wrote a letter to Skates outlining the organisation’s situation and asking for his support in addressing its financial challenges.

Skates announced the review in a statement responding to a report from a steering group that rejected the Welsh government’s proposals to merge the commercial functions of NMW and the historic environment body Cadw, which looks after 129 monuments and sites across Wales.

Thurley has been asked to take into account the work of the steering group, which includes senior representatives from NMW, Cadw, the National Library of Wales, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, and trade unions.

The group has met five times since September. It was established by Skates to consider the government’s proposals to create Historic Wales, a new heritage body which would “bring together many of the commercial functions” of NMW and Cadw.

But rather than a formal merger of functions, the steering group recommended that the three national heritage organisations and Cadw should form a strategic partnership. The partnership would be defined in a written agreement, and would involve collaboration in some commercial areas like retail and venue hire. The organisations would also look to share back office functions, while protecting jobs.

The merger proposals had been strongly criticised by cultural sector organisations, including the Museums Association, which warned that they would threaten the independence of the institutions by bringing some of their operations under direct government control.

The steering group also proposed that the strategic partnership could work with other cultural bodies on developing a cultural sector skills strategy, and work with the government to jointly market national cultural tourism campaigns and events, possibly through a ‘Historic Wales’ brand.

And it recommended that Cadw should move outside of government to become a charity or executive agency.

In his statement responding to the steering group’s recommendations, Skates said: “I shall consider the recommendations in the report in detail and I will respond to each in due course."

When he established the steering group, Skates said that the creation of Historic Wales was a Welsh Labour manifesto commitment. But in a Senedd discussion in November, Assembly Members pointed out that this proposal had been difficult to locate, and Skates acknowledged that some people had struggled to access the relevant pages.

A spokeswoman for NMW said that the museum would fully support and facilitate Thurley's work in the review.

“We consider the review to be an opportunity to demonstrate the achievements of the organisation and the breadth of what we deliver within limited resources,” she said.

The spokeswoman said that the museum had welcomed the opportunity to contribute to the work of the steering group, and that the trustees would consider the recommendations and the cabinet secretary’s response at their next meeting in March.

She added that it was important that any recommendations taken forward would be subject to feasibility studies and business cases.

“This is to ensure that they respect the identity, integrity, independence and core purpose, as well as the commercial interest of each institution, whilst also increasing collaboration and income generation,” said the spokeswoman.

Victoria Rogers, the president of the Federation of Museums and Art Galleries of Wales, said that the NMW review should incorporate the potential for impact on the sector as a whole and that the federation hoped it would reflect the crucial work NMW does in partnership with local museums. “Any review of NMW must take account of the recommendations from the Expert Review into Local Museum Provision and the new Welsh Museums Strategy currently being developed,” she said.

Rogers said that her organisation had registered concerns about the Historic Wales proposals to the cabinet secretary in October. These were that the independence and core purposes of NMW should be protected, that institutions should collaborate rather than merge, and that there should be a better definition of the functions that could be delivered collaboratively and how they could be delivered.

“We are pleased to see that the steering group report has addressed those concerns in its recommendations,” said Rogers.

“The recommendations of joint marketing of Wales’ cultural tourism and a cultural sector skills strategy have direct potential benefits for the whole museums sector and we would welcome being involved in further work to frame and progress them,” she added.

Suzy Davies, a Conservative AM who opposed the Historic Wales proposals, told Museums Journal that she was pleased and relieved by the steering group’s recommendations. She said: “A prod was needed on more strategic marketing, but castrating the museum was nuts.”

The steering group came to its conclusions after consideration of a feasibility report by accountancy firm PwC evaluating four options for the Welsh heritage sector, which had been identified in a review by Welsh Liberal Democrat peer Jennifer Randerson. The Investing in the Future to Protect the Past report said that a merger of national heritage organisations would be “a very lengthy and complex process”.

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