Stakeholders from across the museum and heritage sector have welcomed the government’s announcement today of a £1.57bn rescue package to help the UK’s cultural, arts and heritage institutions weather the devastating impact of the Covid-19 crisis.
The “unprecedented” investment, which will be distributed through emergency grants and loans, includes a £1.15bn support pot for cultural organisations in England, with £880m available through grants and £270m through repayable finance.
There will be £100m in targeted support for national cultural institutions in England and English Heritage, as well as £120m to help restart construction on cultural and heritage infrastructure projects that were paused due to the pandemic.
An extra £188m has also been allocated to the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland (£33m), Scotland (£97m) and Wales (£59m), which have independent responsibility for cultural spending.
A joint statement from the National Museum Directors’ Council, Association for Independent Museums and the Museums Association (MA) said: “We welcome the government’s announcement of £1.57bn for the culture and heritage sector.
"Across the country museums have worked tirelessly to provide entertainment, education and solace to the British public during the crisis and the levels of engagement with museums have proven that these organisations are more needed than ever, however they have done this against a background of incredible uncertainty about the future.
"As museums across the country begin to reopen over the coming months, they will play a crucial role in the recovery as towns, city centres and rural economies begin to open up following the lockdown.
"This funding is a signal that the government is committed to supporting our essential national and regional institutions through this challenging time. The capital investment will help avert a secondary crisis for existing grant holders that are already part way through capital initiatives, ensuring that these vital projects can deliver their intended public benefits.
"We hope that this package marks a sea change in the government's commitment to securing a sustainable future for the museum sector and in realising the ambition of ensuring people in every corner of the UK are able to enjoy and participate in culture.”
In a further response, MA director Sharon Heal said “the task now is for a strategic and equitable distribution of funding that will allow museums to reopen safely and do the vital work of supporting communities to rebuild”.
The directors of six national institutions - Tate, the Science Museum Group, British Museum, Natural History Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum, and National Gallery -said in a joint statement: “Our national museums are amongst the most entrepreneurial in the world and the economic impact of Covid-19 has proved particularly damaging to our finances. Emergency assistance this year will enable us both to care for the collections and secure safe, free access to our galleries.
“We now look forward to engaging with the Comprehensive Spending Review to secure a longer-term financial settlement, with a truly sustainable balance of self-generated income and government funding.”
The union Prospect, which represents thousands of workers in the heritage, cultural and creative sectors, welcomed the funding but warned that the money would need to start reaching crisis-hit organisations this week if insolvencies and further job losses are to be prevented.
Prospect’s general secretary, Mike Clancy, said: “We have been warning government for months about the catastrophic effects that dealing with coronavirus was having on the whole cultural sector.
“It seems like the government has finally decided to act, but the devil will be in the detail.
“The government must start to pump money into organisations in the sector this week if we don’t want to see more job losses and employers folding. There can’t be any more foot dragging. Unions like ours still stand ready to work with government to get this right.
“Now the government have shown they are willing to act on this - it is time for them to act on the ‘forgotten freelancers’ too. These workers, so unfairly left out of government support schemes, need some support too.”
Ros Kerslake, the director of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We warmly welcome this outstanding rescue package for heritage and culture. The National Lottery Heritage Fund has worked hard with partners in the sector to provide the evidence that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport needed to secure this important support from the Treasury. We look forward to working with others to ensure the future of heritage in the face of unprecedented challenges from Covid-19.
“It’s clear that the economic impact of the virus will be severe, with huge consequences for jobs, local places and communities. In addition to this funding, the National Lottery is playing a critical role and we are continuing to support organisations through our £50m Heritage Emergency Fund.
“Heritage is vitally important in making communities better places to live, creating economic prosperity and supporting personal wellbeing – it is essential we do everything we can to support it so it can continue to play this role.”