Museum of Lancashire is one of a number of sites in Lancashire that has closed following cuts to public funding

Many UK museums face an uncertain future, finds MA report

Nicola Sullivan, 03.04.2017
Devolved nations hardest hit by public funding cuts
Almost a quarter (24%) of museums in the UK experienced a decrease in public funding in 2015-16 with the devolved nations being the hardest hit, according to research conducted by the Museums Association (MA).

The report Museums in the UK: 2017 showed that 64% of museums in Wales reported a cut to public income (all revenue funding from sources such as government, local authority or higher education institution), compared to 50% in Scotland, 43% in Northern Ireland and 21% in England.

Within England, London and the North East experienced the greatest drops in public income, with 30% of museums in each of those regions experiencing a cut.

In addition, data from the Department for Communities and Local Government shows that from 2010 to 2016 local authorities in England have cut spending on museums and galleries by 31% in real-terms.

Although a similarly detailed breakdown was not available for local government spending in the devolved nations, figures show that, over the same period, local authority revenue spending on culture, heritage, libraries and leisure services in Wales fell by 26% in real terms, while funding for cultural and related services among Scottish local authorities decreased by 4.6% in real terms (equivalent data for Northern Ireland was not available).

Funding cuts are having serious consequences for the museum sector. At least 64 museums have closed across the UK since 2010, including recent closures in Lancashire, Dudley and Kirklees.

“We have to reduce our deficit by £10,000 by the end of the year, and another £10,000 every year over the next three years. Our options are make staff redundant, increase our charges across all activities, cut costs, reduce our free events. It will be a combination of all of these factors,” said one respondent to the MA's research. 

Sharon Heal, the director of the MA, said: “Museums are at the heart of their communities and are a crucial part of the civic realm. They can help us understand our place in a rapidly changing world and play a unique role in connecting the past with the present. But in order for them to deliver the life-changing opportunities that they provide they need sustained public funding.

“We have seen an increase in museum closures over the past year and there’s a danger that some areas of the country are going to be left without these vital community resources.”

David Fleming, the director of National Museums Liverpool and president of the MA, said: “What I hope comes out of the publication of this report is that society will face up to the impacts that cuts in public spending are having on many museums and their communities.

"No one can be in any doubt that the UK museum sector has pockets of deep crisis. Pretending that all is well is stupid or duplicitous as well as damaging. I have never believed that no museum should ever close, but there are many factors to be taken into account, not least the value of a museum to its local community. I will repeat something I have asked on many occasions – what’s the national plan?”

The MA’s report, based on a survey of 453 museums, also highlighted that many museums are losing key curatorial and outreach staff, raising fears about the long-term ability of museums to care for key cultural and scientific collections and to deliver public programmes.

A quarter (15%) of museums said full time equivalent staff had decreased in 2015-16, compared to the previous year, while the same proportion reported an increase. However, the results varied widely between museum types. The hardest hit by year-on-year staff cuts were independent former local authority museums (58%), national museums (55%) and local authority museums (26%).

“Key threats are retention and loss of key staff through benchmarked lower rates of pay compared to wider sector,” one respondent said.

The MA’s report comes ahead of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Museums Review, which is expected to set out recommendations for the future sustainability of the museums in England. But the MA is concerned that the review, due to be published this spring, will stop short of addressing the critical issue of funding.


Museums in the UK: 2017


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Maurice Davies
Head of Collections, Royal Academy of Arts
07.04.2017, 11:54
64 closures sounds bad, but look closer and it's not all what it seems. Of the 64 closures, a fair number were never open for very long. Examples include ambitious Millennium projects such as Wildwalk, Urbis, The Public and the Earth Centre. Other new-ish ventures that sadly didn't work out include the Women's Library, British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, Artsway, BFi Gallery, Paul Hamlyn Library at the BM, MoDA, Bromsgrove, Broadfield House and the National Conservation Centre. Apart from the disaster that is Lancashire, and somecsad closures in Kirklees, it's striking how few 'old' museums have in fact closed. Once a museum has survived for about 25 years, it seems very resilient.