Williamson Art Gallery in Birkenhead

Council gives Williamson Art Gallery temporary reprieve

Geraldine Kendall, 29.02.2014
Action group allowed more time to explore alternative business model
Wirral Council has agreed to revise its planned cuts to the Williamson Art Gallery and Birkenhead Priory to allow more time for an alternative business and funding model to be developed.

The council is to reduce the gallery’s £600,000 budget by 18% in 2014/15 – a less severe reduction than the 55% cut initially proposed. But deeper cuts are expected to be made the following year.

The council’s original proposal, which would have seen the gallery's budget fall to just £200,000 by 2016, would have effectively closed down the service. Local MP Frank Field set up an action group last year to explore options for safeguarding the future of the facility.

The action group has put forward a strategic plan outlining an alternative business model for the service, based on a management partnership between the council and a new charitable body.

Council leader Phil Davies said the funding reprieve would give the group more time to come up with a detailed business plan for implementing the strategy.

He added: “We are firmly in favour of keeping the Williamson open and believe that transferring its operations to a skilled and committed group is the best way of ensuring this happens.”

But the action group said its proposed model would still require a commitment by the council to provide a minimum level of subsidy.

The document states: “There is no public gallery in the country which is not reliant on some form of public subsidy and when other councils have successfully followed the path towards asset transfer, the process has been underpinned by a continuing financial commitment, albeit at a reduced level.”

Action group chairman Robert Lee said: “I am pleased that the Williamson will not close next year, but its future is not yet safe. This will depend on a commitment from the council to continue to provide core funding.

“While we understand the difficult financial position of the council, we will continue to press for an adequate funding base which needs to be agreed by the end of May.”

The strategy’s objectives include diversifying the gallery’s income streams, extending volunteer programmes and developing outreach activities linked to health and wellbeing.

Comments