More museums face budget cuts - Museums Association

More museums face budget cuts

Venues in Wanlockhead, Trowbridge and Wisbech have had funding reduced
A number of museums have had their funding cut as councils look to make savings.

The Museum of Lead Mining in Wanlockhead, Scotland’s highest village, has had its budget cut by a sixth after Dumfries and Galloway Council reduced its annual contribution from £25,000 to zero for 2018-19. The decision was confirmed at a meeting yesterday.

Wanlockhead Museum Trust, the volunteer-run organisation which manages the museum, had a total income of about £150,000 in 2016-17 and spent around £90,000 on wages and salaries. The venue employs one full time staff member and about 15 part-time seasonal workers.

The museum offers visitors the chance to see an 18th-century underground lead mine and miners’ cottages from different periods in history. Its 2,572-volume Miners’ Library Collection is Recognised as Nationally Significant by Museums Galleries Scotland.

The trust’s chair, Jon Evans, told Museums Journal that the museum was “reeling” after becoming aware of the council’s plans last week.

Evans said that the museum had received an annual contribution of almost £40,000 from the council four years ago. But this has been gradually reduced each year, and the venue has made efforts to cut its spending accordingly.

“We have done everything we can in terms of negotiating with suppliers and purchasing less," said Evans. "We have one full time member of staff when we used to have two or three.”

Evans said that the museum would have to make up the budget shortfall using an overdraft since it had no reserves to draw on.

“Once that runs out then effectively the museum would become insolvent,” said Evans. “We might have to shorten the opening hours and cut down staff, which would negatively affect tourism”.

David Mann, the director of Industrial Museums Scotland, said that if the museum closed it would be “a huge loss to the area and a huge loss to the reputation of industrial museums”.

“We need to fight to make sure it is understood how important industrial heritage and volunteer-run museums are,” said Mann.

A statement from Dumfries and Galloway Council said that the authority had stopped or adapted the delivery of a number of services due to “unprecedented financial challenges” in recent years. The council said it had been required to make £86m of savings since 2010 and will need to cut its spending by £48m more over the next three years.

“This year, we received an unprecedented number of applications for area committee grant funding which meant that there wasn’t sufficient funding to meet the extremely high number of applications,” said the statement.

“Robust scoring criteria were used to assess all of the applications and subsequently each application was given a score. This score determined which applications were successful. Unfortunately, due to the high volume of grant applications and the funding pot available, this has resulted in a number of organisations not receiving the grant funding that they applied for.

“Council officers will work with the organisations that were not successful to provide assistance where appropriate.”

Another venue facing a cut is Trowbridge Museum in Wiltshire. The council told the museum a few weeks ago that it would withdraw its annual contribution of around £8,000 for 2018-19.

But the museum’s curator, Clare Lyall, said the cut would have limited impact because the museum receives a much larger annual sum of about £160,000 from Trowbridge Town Council.

“We are very fortunate to be funded by the town council, which is a very dynamic and forward-looking organisation," said Lyall. "They see the value of heritage and what a significant thing it is in terms of the identity of the town.”

The museum recently received £1.2m from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) towards a £2.4m expansion project due to be completed in 2020.

Wisbech and Fenland Museum in Cambridgeshire is also having to address funding cuts. In April last year, Fenland District Council removed its annual grant of about £46,000 and gave the museum, which operates independently, £70,000 to cover the next three years.

Last year the museum also received £94,000 from the HLF’s resilient heritage programme to enable options for its future to be assessed. “After that process it was pretty firm that closure was not an option," said the museum’s acting curator Robert Bell. "We are looking at different models of income generation.”

Bell said that Wisbech Town Council had increased its annual grant to the museum from £5,000 to £20,000. But the museum will still need to generate an extra £25,000 a year even to maintain minimal operations.

Bell said that options including corporate hire, paid tours, and catering were being explored and that a number of grant bids were being progressed. “It’s not all doom and gloom, but there is still that revenue funding to be dealt with,” said Bell.

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