Welsh Government urged to rethink 'catastrophic' heritage cuts - Museums Association

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Welsh Government urged to rethink ‘catastrophic’ heritage cuts

Committee recommends reduced cut for monuments and more support for national collections after warnings from sector
The budget was debated in the Senedd this week
The budget was debated in the Senedd this week Michael Livsey, Flickr

The Welsh Government has been advised to reconsider some of its plans for significant cuts to the nation’s museum, heritage and culture sector, after sector bodies warned they would have a catastrophic impact.

The government announced sweeping reductions in its draft 2024/25 budget last December, including a 10.5% cut to Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales and the Arts Council of Wales, and an even more severe 22.3% cut to the historic environment service, Cadw.

Since then, the Senedd’s culture committee, which is scrutinising the plans, has heard evidence from heritage and culture sector bodies warning that drastic measures will need to be considered if the full cuts go ahead, including restructures, entry charges and possible closures.

In its scrutiny report to the Senedd this week, the committee urged the government to rethink cuts to the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales, which is funded through Cadw.

The committee asked the government to “reconsider the proposed reduction in the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales’s budget from 22% to 10%”.

Its recommendation follows warnings from sector bodies about the potentially devastating impact of the cuts being proposed to heritage. The Wales Heritage Group, which represents a number of heritage bodies, told the culture committee last month that it would be “impossible to see an operational future for the [Royal Commission] following such a severe cut”.

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The Council for British Archaeology told the committee that the cuts to Cadw would have a “catastrophic impact on heritage in Wales” and were “disproportionate and seemingly unjustified”. The committee also heard that the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Museum in Caernarfon Castle would be unsustainable in the immediate future if the full cut went ahead.

National collections

Although it stopped short of recommending a reduced revenue cut for Amgueddfa Cymru, the culture committee also said the government should “should make protecting the national collections a cross government mission, and identify what expenditure in other government departments can be re-allocated to protect the national collections”.

The recommendation comes after the committee heard evidence in January that Amgueddfa Cymru is facing a £90m maintenance backlog over the remainder of this decade, with warnings that it is currently forced to arrange rotas around the weather in case paintings need to be moved due to a leaking roof.

The institution was allocated £5m additional capital last year and will receive the same again next year to deal with immediate repairs, but the committee heard it requires an extra £9m a year for maintenance.

The committee questioned why the government was investing in new capital projects rather than addressing urgent maintenance issues.

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The report said: "Following our evidence session with [Amgueddfa Cymru], we asked the minister and deputy minister why are they not prioritising the need to address existing risks to the national collections over some of the new spending commitments they have made.

"We asked them what consideration they’d given to pausing commitments such as the Museum for North Wales over protecting precious items already in the national collection."

More leeway

In another recommendation, the committee told the government to give arm’s length cultural bodies more leeway in fulfilling their obligations in light of the cuts.

The committee said the government should review its remit letters to arm’s length bodies, saying the planned cuts would impact their ability “to deliver what is required of them”, and also called for a longer timeframe and more financial support for voluntary redundancy schemes.

Restructure

Meanwhile, Amgueddfa Cymru has already begun a restructure process and staff have been placed on notice of redundancy. The institution has not yet confirmed how many roles may be at risk or what departments will be affected.

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An Amgueddfa Cymru spokeswoman told Museums Journal: “To ensure that the organisation can continue to operate within the revised budgets, Amgueddfa Cymru is having to consider different cost-saving options including changing operating arrangements, cost efficiencies, and potential job losses.

“Ninety percent of the income received from Welsh Government is spent on staff costs. Whilst we are exploring new income generation opportunities as well as other operational costs, most of the reduction will need to be met by reduction of posts. As a result, with the Welsh Government’s approval, we are running voluntary severance and compulsory redundancies across the whole of the organisation.

“This is an unsettling period for Amgueddfa Cymru, and the priority is to provide care and support to our staff and volunteers over the coming weeks and months. Consultations with trade union colleagues have been taking place throughout the process.”

Entry charges

In addition to the job cuts, the Senedd has been told that entry fees may be reintroduced at national museums in Wales. Amgueddfa Cymru manages seven museum sites across the nation.

Last month, Dawn Boden, the deputy minister for culture, told the Senedd’s culture committee that ending free access to national museums was under consideration, as public bodies have been told they must generate more income. Boden said that, if entry charges were introduced, equality would remain a key consideration and some audience groups would be exempted from paying.

“It is not something that we would be considering or asking the museum to look at and to consider if it were not in a critical situation,” she said.

Plaid Cymru’s Llŷr Gruffydd told the hearing that there was an "air of inevitability" about the introduction of entry charges.

Call to reconsider

Museums Association director Sharon Heal has called on the Welsh Government to rethink the budget proposals. She said: “It’s disappointing to see the proposed budget cuts that will impact both local and national museums in Wales. Museums in Wales have led the way on working with their communities, tackling the climate crisis, supporting community wellbeing and sharing and democratising their collections and it would be a shame to see this sector-leading work set back.

“Museums in Wales are an essential part of the fabric of the nation; they are loved and trusted by the public and are a key part of our cultural and social infrastructure. They are also at the heart of civic life, helping to make our villages, towns and cities vibrant and inclusive places to live, work and visit. 

“The Welsh Government has long recognised that museums are playing a vital role delivering against its key policy priorities such as supporting the Future Generation Act and the Anti-Racist Wales Action Plan and we would urge it to reconsider the proposed cuts.”

The draft budget was debated in the Senedd this week and a final budget will be published on 27 February.

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