What will next month’s general election mean for museums? The sector often gets overlooked in the cut and thrust of an election campaign, but the good news is that there are promises of more investment in culture in most of the party manifestos.
While investment is welcome, it will take a lot to help museums – particularly local authority-run institutions – recover from the past 10 years of austerity. This damage can be seen across the UK. In England, local authority spending on arts and culture has dropped by £400m since 2010, and public funding for regional museums has fallen by 30% on average in the past five years. In Scotland, museum professionals are warning of a quiet crisis playing out among the nation’s local authority museums, with some at risk of closure.
The Museums Association (MA) has outlined what the sector needs from the next government in its Museums Manifesto, which includes the following eight priorities:
- Support for local museums
- Support for urgent repairs and infrastructure
- Support museums’ capacity to deliver place-making, health and wellbeing, and learning and engagement
- Support digital infrastructure and engagement to ensure museums and collections remain accessible, relevant and innovative
- Embed Exhibition Tax Relief
- Maintain free entry to national museums
- Negotiate a close economic partnership with the EU that works for museums
- Simplify business rates
With these priorities in mind, Museums Journal takes a look at what each party’s manifesto has in store for museums.
Slogan: “Get Brexit done. Unleash Britain’s potential”
The party’s manifesto promises to “maintain our support for the arts and culture, taking pride in the world-beating strengths of the UK’s creative industries and its unparalleled cultural heritage”.
The Conservatives have stuck by their pledge to roll out the “largest cultural capital programme in a century”, which was announced last month. The £250m fund aims to support regional museums and libraries. But of that sum, the government has already allocated £18.5m to the National Railway Museum and £7m to Coventry for its UK City of Culture 2021 programme, leaving £224.5m left to be distributed over five years.
Of that amount, £125m will go into a maintenance fund for regional museums and libraries and the remainder – £19.9m a year – will be handed out through the existing Cultural Development Fund.
The manifesto says that the fund will also support activities, traditions and events that bring communities together.
Struggling museums may benefit from a £150m Community Ownership Fund, which will encourage local takeovers of civic organisations or community assets that are under threat.
In a change in the party’s approach to education, which has side-lined creative subjects in recent years, the manifesto promises to introduce an arts premium to secondary schools “to fund enriching activities for all children”.
The manifesto pledges to maintain support for creative sector tax reliefs and free entry to national museums. It does promise business rates relief for music venues and cinemas, but there’s no similar pledge for museums.
Slogan: “It’s time for real change”
Expanding on the detail in its main manifesto, Labour has launched a separate Charter for the Arts. The party is pledging to fund a £1bn “cultural renaissance” and will introduce a white paper outlining its cultural strategy if it gets into government.
The party’s manifesto says a Labour government would “invest in the towns and communities neglected for too long with a £1bn Cultural Capital Fund to transform libraries, museums and galleries across the country".
The party would also introduce a Town of Culture competition to build on the success of the UK City of Culture festival.
A Labour government would introduce an Arts Pupil Premium to every primary school in England, a £175m boost that would ensure “creative and arts education is embedded in secondary education” and provide a pathway to working in the creative sector.
The party promises to make the distribution of National Lottery funding more transparent to help communities get their fair share of project funding.
The manifesto also includes a commitment to diversity in the cultural sectors, promising that a Labour government would “work with trade unions and employers to make creative jobs accessible for all, ensuring diversity in these industries so that everyone sees themselves represented”.
Labour would review the copyright framework to ensure fair remuneration for artists and content creators. The manifesto also reiterates the party’s commitment to free entry to museums.
Echoing discussions currently taking place in the museum sector, Labour also makes a commitment to investigate the “legacies of British imperial rule”, including plans to improve the teaching of empire, colonialism and slavery in schools.
However, some culture professionals have expressed concern that the party’s plan for a green industrial revolution to tackle the climate crisis does not mention the creative and cultural sectors.
Slogan: "Stop Brexit: build a better future"
The Liberal Democrats’ plans for culture are more vague, although the party's manifesto says it will “continue to invest in our cultural capital” and "maintain free access to national museums and galleries".
The Green Party
Slogan: "If not now, when?"
The party’s manifesto includes a commitment to museums under the party’s plans to invest £10bn of central government funding a year in councils. The manifesto says: “We will support councils to also use this funding to nurture arts and culture in their areas, keeping local museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries open and thriving.”
Slogan: “Wales. It’s us”
Plaid Cymru says it will place art, culture and language “at the heart of our policies, from local government finance through to health and education and our European policies”.
Its manifesto adds: “Creativity, innovation and a sense of place will be critical to the success of any economy in the 21st century and also carry a huge social dividend in wellbeing and community cohesion.”
The party is promising to maintain free entry to museums, create a National Digital Library for Wales, and work with Amgueddfa Cymru (National Museum Wales) to create a national gallery for contemporary art.
Scottish National Party (SNP)
Slogan: “Stronger for Scotland”
The party’s manifesto makes no specific reference to museums and only briefly mentions the culture sector, but it does promise “an end to austerity”. It says it will press the UK government to reverse its cuts to the Scottish budget and invest in public services.
The party reiterates its support for freedom of movement, and says that if Brexit happens, it will argue for “streamlined visa schemes for artists and performers which ensures people from across the world can come to Scotland to perform, work and collaborate, and Scotland’s culture sector and creative industries can continue to benefit from international partnerships and shared experiences”.
Of the other major parties, the DUP has not yet launched its manifesto. The Brexit Party is not planning to release a manifesto.
“It’s good to see a commitment to culture and museums from some of the major political parties, but whatever the outcome of the election we will need action and not just warm words," says Sharon Heal, the director of the MA. "In our manifesto we outline the transformative impact that museums can have on people’s lives but in order to deliver that they need funding and support.
"An incoming government will also need to deliver fair settlements for devolved administrations and local government so that they too can invest in their museums. We live in challenging and turbulent times and we need our civic institutions and collections to help us understand the past, reflect on the present and shape the future.”