What does the 2020 Budget mean for museums?

Government cuts business rates and confirms Cultural Investment Fund
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Rebecca Atkinson
The chancellor Rishi Sunak has abolished business rates for small- and medium-sized organisations and confirmed that the £250m Cultural Investment Fund for culture, heritage, local museums, and neighbourhood libraries in England will go ahead.

The fund includes a £90m Cultural Development Fund to support regeneration proposals outside London.

The announcements were made during Sunak’s first budget, which promises £33.9bn of spending per year by 2024.

Coinciding with the World Health Organisation’s decision to declare Covid-19 a global pandemic, the chancellor announced £12bn “for temporary, timely and targeted measures to provide security and stability for people and businesses” during the health crisis.

Spending for the cultural sector includes £27m for “critical maintenance work on national museums’ estates” and a new £90m Arts Premium in England. The latter will give schools £25,000 to support high-quality arts programmes in partnership with museums and other arts organisations.

London's Natural History Museum was promised £180m over six years for a storage and research facility at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxford. Sunak said this would “put the facility at the forefront of natural sciences research and international collaboration, housing and increasing access to around 40% of this world-leading biological collection”.

And the government made a commitment to increase the provision of Changing Places toilets in new and existing buildings. Sunak said it will change building regulations guidance by the end of this year to mandate the provision of Changing Places toilets in new public buildings, and will invest £30m in a Changing Places Fund to identify the need for such facilities in existing buildings.

Alistair Brown, the policy manager at the Museums Association, said: “This budget is a big change from recent years – the new government is more open to spending than under Theresa May or David Cameron, and while much of the spending announced today is aimed at propping up the economy during the Covid-19 outbreak, there are several reasons to think that this is a good budget for museums.
“In particular, the government’s decision to reduce business rates by 100% for the next year for organisations in England with a rateable value of less than £51,000 will be a real help for small and medium-sized museums that are worried about the impact of Covid-19 on audience figures and income generation.

“The reduction will help those who are subject to full business rates or those that have seen their discretionary business rate relief cut in recent years – but for those museums that still enjoy 100% business rates relief, these changes will make little difference.”
Brown added that there was little in the budget for museums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but said the overall increase in spending means that devolved administrations will get substantial increases in their block grant from Westminster.

“The Museums Association will be lobbying Cardiff, Edinburgh and Stormont to ensure that museums get their fair share of this funding,” he said.  

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