National museums could become public corporations, says report - Museums Association

National museums could become public corporations, says report

Model would give institutions more operational freedom
Jonathan Knott
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will work to support national museums that are interested in becoming public corporations, according to a report published this month.

Under this governance model, used by the BBC, the Post Office and the Bank of England, the museums would remain under the oversight of DCMS, but would have more operational freedom than they currently do.

But to be eligible to apply for public corporation status, a museum would need to generate at least half of its income commercially. Currently, no DCMS-sponsored museum receives more than 26% of its income from commercial activities.

The announcement was made in the strategic review of DCMS-sponsored museums, which accompanied the Mendoza Review of the wider English museum sector earlier this month.

The report says: “If a sponsored museum is interested and can demonstrate that it may reach the criteria of 50% of commercial income, DCMS will work with them to consider the potential of the museum becoming a public corporation.”

The document adds: “Whilst funding would still come from government, and the government would select trustees, public corporations have more freedoms, being further removed from government control, such as reduced bureaucracy, their own recruitment and retention policies and potentially additional ways to raise funds e.g. issuing bonds. These benefits would appear greater than the current freedoms and it would still be possible for ministers to ensure priorities such as free access.”

But elsewhere, the report said that it was unclear whether the benefits of being a public corporation would be greater than museums’ existing freedoms.

Currently DCMS-sponsored museums operate as non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs), but are granted more freedoms than other NDPBs. These include not being bound by the 1% cap on public sector pay rises and having the power to borrow money through voted loans.

The review considered 16 cultural institutions sponsored by DCMS: 13 national museums, two non-national museums and the British Library.

London’s Royal Parks organisation, which manages spaces including Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, has set a recent precedent for this switch, becoming a charitable public corporation in March.

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