Editorial: Glasgow - can a trust be trusted? - Museums Association

Editorial: Glasgow – can a trust be trusted?

Glasgow City Council took its first steps towards transferring its museums and galleries to trust status last month (see Glasgow …
Glasgow City Council took its first steps towards transferring its museums and galleries to trust status last month (see Glasgow council proposes trust status for museums).

This is not so unusual as, according to a report by Adrian Babbidge that came out earlier this year, at least 22 local authorities have moved their museums to trusts in the past 15 years.

But in Glasgow, the council is proposing that the whole culture and leisure department transfers to trust status. Babbidge's report is sceptical about the advantages of doing this. It says that there is a risk of just transferring all the difficulties that museums
face in local authorities to the new trust.

And while the arms-length approach may free the museum service from political bureaucracy, it can also distance it from political champions who can be vital when it comes to pushing for extra resources (or defending museums should they come under attack).

There are only a few other examples where this has happened and the picture is not rosy. In Hounslow, the council's culture and leisure service is run by the culture trust CiP. It covers everything from leisure centres to allotments, as well as having responsibility for Gunnersbury Park Museum.

But after eight years with the trust, local discontent is brewing about the marked lack of progress at the museum, which is in dire need of a makeover. In Wigan, the trust's plan concentrates on turning the famous pier into a cultural quarter. But this has been at the expense of the two museums - one has closed and the other will shut next year.

So it seems odd that in a city where so much success has been attached to the museum service, and where the general public is so fiercely loyal to its museums, that the council should consider this move.

Moving to a trust is quite often fuelled by a desire to save money, but this is misguided. The Babbidge report found that local authorities are unlikely to make any immediate and substantial financial savings from devolution.

Glasgow council says the move is not financially driven (although it has predicted an annual saving of £9.7m from trust status). Either way, the biggest battle may be convincing Glaswegians that the transfer is not akin to getting rid of the family silver, and that a trust can be trusted. So far, they appear to be suspicious: a poll in the Glasgow Evening Times showed 75 per cent are against the move.

Trusts can work, but they are not an easy answer for councils looking for savings, or for museums seeking extra cash. And the danger is that as part of a supersized culture, trust museums may be squashed by the big players. Councillors should think long and hard before handing over responsibility for what they themselves have described as the jewel in the city's crown.
Sharon Heal

Moving to Museum Trusts www.mla.gov.uk/website/publications

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