The National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. Photograph by Keith Hunter

Scotland’s museums badly hit by timing of Covid-19 crisis

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 29.05.2020
Longer lockdown, earlier summer break and loss of overseas tourism are having an impact
The timing of the Covid-19 crisis has been particularly damaging for Scotland’s 409 museums and galleries, the Scottish parliament has been told.

In a response submitted to the culture, tourism, Europe and external affairs parliamentary committee, the Museums Association (MA) said: “Scotland’s longer lockdown, earlier summer holidays and reliance on international tourism mean that the sector will be disproportionately affected relative to other museums in the UK.” 

The MA said emergency funding measures provided by the government were “welcome and appreciated”, but that most of the funding streams available, such as the £700,000 fund provided by Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS), are likely to be “heavily oversubscribed”. 

“It is vital that museums continue to receive support beyond the end of the lockdown,” the statement said. “On reopening, museums will immediately start to incur costs of operation but without the immediate return of income from ticketing, commercial income and philanthropy.”

The MA warned that international tourism is unlikely to return to pre-crisis levels for years to come and that museums will likely be operating at a loss for some time.

“This is particularly the case if museums are expected to reopen during low season, when many will not have the funds to continue,” it said. “There is a real risk that if government support schemes are withdrawn immediately, museums will face a second financial crisis due to missing out on peak season. 

“We therefore anticipate that there will be a period of adjustment during which museums will need both public support and a reappraisal of business models in order to secure their operations in the long-term.” 

A separate survey published this week by MGS found that 71% of independent museums say they do not have the funds to survive a year.

“The anticipated reduction in visitor figures and income post lockdown will be an enormous challenge for those already facing financial difficulties,” said MGS. “It is likely that many will not be able to open this year as it will not be financially viable for them to do so. Some may fail as a result.”

According to the survey, local authorities and arm’s length external organisations have indicated that many of the museums they run will not open again this year, and future budget pressures mean some may not reopen at all.

Meanwhile, university museums are scenario planning for large budget cuts because of the decline in overseas students. 

MGS has so far awarded six grants worth a total of £117,498 through its Urgent Response Fund, out of 24 applications. Thirty-five grants totalling £61,145 have been awarded through its Digital Resilience Fund, out of 42 applications.

The organisation's chief executive, Lucy Casot, said: "We are in regular contact with the Scottish Government and other funding and tourism bodies to highlight the needs and concerns of our sector. It is absolutely vital that museums and galleries keep us informed of their situation to enable us to make the strongest advocacy case.”

The government's route map to reopening, which was published last week, confirmed that Scotland’s museums and galleries will not open until the second week of July at the earliest.

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29.05.2020, 17:24
Whilst all this is true, I think it is as much applicable to other parts of the UK as to museums in Scotland. In London there is a particularly accute issue - the very high dependence on public transport to bring visitors to museums. If official advice is to avoid public transport or to practice capacity-limiting social distancing on the bus, then London will be one of the hardest-hit locations along with other big cities where car use is low.