‘Serious concerns’ over proposed cuts to Bristol’s museum service
The union Unison has expressed “serious concerns” about the rationale behind proposed cuts to Bristol’s museums and archives service.
The council says it faces additional costs of more than £3.4bn in 2023-24, rising to a gap of £4.5bn in 2024-25, just to maintain services at pre-pandemic levels.
The proposed museum cuts would result in the loss of a team dedicated to working with the community, a significant reduction to the collections team and other front- and back-room staff.
In a letter to the council, the union said the plans were “out of step” with best practice in the museum sector and warned that the restructure would represent “a move away from meaningful engagement with Bristol's communities”.
“Proposals will result in a significant reduction in curatorial and other expertise, the equivalent of which cannot be replaced or bought in,” said the letter. “They will also adversely impact the way that the city's regional, national and internationally important collections are cared for and administered and puts at potential risk in excess of £250m worth of cultural assets.”
The union warned that this would mean a dramatic reduction in community engagement and participation work, as well as fewer exhibitions and events. It said that work to deliver Bristol Museum’s bicentenary programme and activities promised by the service as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation would also have to be reassessed.
“All of this will hinder the museum's ability to generate income and successfully apply for funding and there is concern that this could eventually result in further cuts,” said the letter.
The union warned that the cuts would not represent value for money. “Savings represent a relatively small sum compared with the dramatic loss to public benefit,” said the letter, as well as damaging the city’s reputation as a cultural leader.
The union also said that the review had caused unnecessary stress to staff and created an “unhealthy working environment”, particularly at a time when the service does not have a senior management team in place.
“Restructuring staff ahead of appointing a senior management team we feel does not make sense, especially when savings to the service could be made on vacant management posts,” said the letter.
The We Are Bristol History Commission, an independent group set up by the council in the wake of the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston in 2020, has also criticised the proposals.
In a statement to the council, the commission said: “We urge the mayor and cabinet to rethink proposals for further cuts to the culture budget and would like to emphasise that delays to the plans for the exhibition of the statue will mean that the mayor’s and the city’s constructive response to the toppling may be threatened by future events.”
Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, has called the council to rethink the cuts. “While we understand that local authorities are under financial pressure, we are deeply concerned about the proposed cuts to Bristol city museums,” she said.
“The museum service has a well-earned reputation for working with local communities and using its collections to explore the rich and diverse history of the city. Cuts to curatorial and engagement teams will compromise the expert care and interpretation of the museum’s locally and nationally significant collections and will also undermine the city’s tourism offer. We would ask the council to think again and work with staff, volunteers and community organisations to come up with a sustainable plan to secure the future of the service.”
A final decision on the 2023-24 budget will be taken by the council at its budget setting meeting on 21 February 2023.
Here we go again. Indeed, ridiculous to restructure without a senior management team in place. Did any councillor attend the Chinese New year celebrations at the weekend? Museums and culture are at the heart of an inclusive city, that celebrates difference, encourages debate, opens eyes and hearts. Surely the cuts will impact on the museum’s NPO status, quite apart from restricting other fundraising initiatives and a devastating loss of curatorial expertise and knowledge? Bristol and citizens deserve better.