MLA predicts huge Renaissance under-spend

Gareth Harris and Sharon Heal, 24.02.2010
More than 10 per cent of 2008/09 budget to go back to DCMS
The Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) is predicting a significant under-spend on Renaissance in the Regions for 2009-10.

A spokesman for the MLA said it had alerted the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to the under-spend, which it predicted would be £4.8m.

The spokesman said it was partly due to a change in the way that the MLA allocated money to the hubs.

The money, which is more than 10 per cent of the Renaissance budget for this financial year, will go back to the department for culture – and some has already been allocated to other projects.

Last month, the DCMS promised £100,000 each to the Jewish Museum and Wiener Library to help meet relocation costs.

The department for culture said in a statement that this extra funding was made possible from under-spends identified elsewhere. “There was money left over [for 2009-10], but it will not become public precisely which bodies were affected until our accounts are published in the summer.”

But Museums Journal understands that the funding for the Jewish Museum and other projects has come directly from the Renaissance under-spend.

Roy Clare, chief executive of the MLA, said that as a result of the MLA’s honesty, the DCMS had been able to fund other projects. “It’s not an under-spend, it’s a right-spend,” he said.

“There would be no point in shovelling money out of the door just to spend it before the year-end.”

Clare added that all the funding that the MLA held centrally to run projects such as the Subject Specialist Networks had been spent.

As well as the predicted £4.8m, another £200,000 of Renaissance under-spend has been given to the Wedgwood Museum to see it through its current financial difficulties – the trust is locked in a legal battle over responsibility for the pension deficit of its parent company, which went bust last year.

Stuart Davies, the president of the Museums Association, said: “This under-spend, on the face of it, seems unacceptable. We would hope that DCMS will investigate.”

Historically, there has been a failure to spend all the funding available for Renaissance. The 2009 Renaissance Review said the project’s early years “were characterised by a considerable under-spend”.

A spokesman for the MLA said that in previous years, it had been able to negotiate with the DCMS to carry over any under-spend into the next financial year, but that was not possible this year.

The revelation comes as the MLA is having to find extra cash to pay for the cost of previous restructures. According to the minutes of its November board meeting, the MLA is liable for the pension deficits of the regional agencies, which were wound up in 2009 as part of a restructure. The board minutes describe a £15.7m “worst case” scenario for the pension deficit.

MLA statement

Roy Clare, chief executive, Museums, Libraries and Archives Council said: “Grants were once awarded in advance of spend, with a risk that money could be tied up unproductively and unaccountably. Now, payment is in arrears.

A new data-management system has enabled greater precision in monitoring. Every penny must count, to the limits of ring-fenced allocations from the DCMS. 
Some projects take time to start, while some span more than one funding year, but the extent of carry-forward is governed by the Treasury.

Hub-by-hub, line-by-line, each quarter is analysed against funding agreements. The objective is to achieve positive and sustainable outcomes for visitors, users and museums.

Where our monitoring has shown that the hubs are spending effectively, the MLA has authorised some additional priority Renaissance projects during the year. Each hub is different – some are better spenders than others.

But all projects must satisfy an independent audit. Experience is leading to further improvement, as confidence is gained. 

But spending it right takes priority over spending at any cost. So after careful scrutiny, the MLA has asked for £4.8m less than the original 2009-10 allocation, so that the DCMS can redistribute resources to other important projects before the end of the financial year.

Meanwhile, our forecasts for next year show Renaissance spending to its limits.”

For more on the Wedgwood Museum story, click here