At risk? Displays at the Great North Museum, Newcastle

Non-core services at increasing risk of council cuts, report warns

Gareth Harris, 29.11.2013
Local government spending in England set to fall by 30% between 2008 and 2015
A new report published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that local authorities will be forced to increasingly fund and focus on core services – leaving non-statutory resources such as museum services at risk.  
The report, Coping with Cuts? Local government and poorer communities, was written by academics at Glasgow and Edinburgh universities.
The research revealed that local government spending in England is set to fall by nearly 30% in real terms between 2008 and 2015 (excluding police, schools, and housing benefit).
It warns that as a result local authorities will increasingly focus resources on essential services such as child protection and care of the elderly.
“In the coming years, local government will play a different role in relation to individual wellbeing and quality of life, as well as economic leadership,” the report states.

Councils in the Midlands have already reduced spending per head by around £100. The report warns that spending squeezes mean that the “significant repositioning of local government is currently underway”.
John Low, policy and research manager at Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “As we approach the fourth austerity settlement for local government in December, it is clear the cuts are biting deep into the poorest and most deprived communities.”

But Brandon Lewis, the minister for local government, has criticised the research: “The report is wrong; the independent House of Commons library has already shown that deprived areas continue to receive and spend far more funding per household than other parts of the country… the latest independent polling shows that the public are more satisfied with town hall services than ever before.”

The report discusses the decrease in council subsidies for arts and culture activities, citing Newcastle City Council’s “incremental withdrawal from subsidising a range of arts organisations”. Earlier this year, the council abandoned plans to cut 100% of its arts budget and announced instead that it plans to establish a new annual funding stream for culture organisations.
Julie Finch, the director of Bristol’s Museums, Galleries and Archives, said that non-statutory services, including museums, are under threat and that the wider arts ecology, which connects with many museums, is also being cut.
She said that publically funded museums need to be “commercially savvy” and learn from the independent museum sector: "Museums need to make the ask for money from other sources in new ways, they need to build the case for support, and the skill to do this is in short supply.

“Curators need business acumen, in the way that doctors did back in the 1980s when they began to manage their own budgets directly.”


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MA Member
01.12.2013, 08:39
In the 1980s and 1990s, cash strapped museums realise that their best resource for making cash was their staff. Rather than making knee jerk, wholesale redundancies, departments were asked to meet annual targets for income generation. For instance, putting on what would be called a 'flash exhibition' these days. Drag out a load of stuff from storage for the weekend, minimal interpretation, but manned by the specialist curator(s). Advertise via interest articles in local press and charge a nominal fee for entry. 50p was normal. Real term costs to put on? As near to nothing as makes no odds. This time round, we'd struggle to so this, as we've lost so many in redundancy - in my experience, this recession has been 300% worse than the precious ones in the 80s and 90s, in terms of staffing. All areas of museum work have been hard hit, but while there are statutory requirements for maintaining front of house and maintenance staff at a certain level, the minimal level for collections staff in terms of accreditation appears to be one, or possibly even less, which then prevents activities such as the one described above from occurring.