Parties go head-to-head at English museum hustings

Nicola Sullivan, 06.05.2015
Museum funding and the role of DCMS under scrutiny
The way museums are funded and the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) were scrutinised during a museum hustings for England at the Imperial War Museum in London.

Speaking at last week's event, organised by the Museums Association (MA) and the National Museum Directors' Council, culture minister Ed Vaizey refuted claims that his decision to increase the share of lottery funding going to the arts was a way of covering up severe cuts to public funding. He said the decision to increase lottery funding from 16% to 20% was made while the Conservative party was still in opposition.

When asked by journalist Simon Tait, who chaired the event, whether funding would be cut by 23% during the next three years if the Conservatives won the election, Vaizey said: “We don’t know what level of cuts will have to be made to clear the deficit.”
 
Wilf Stevenson, Labour Lords spokesman for culture, said that while Labour could not restore the cuts, those already made under the Conservatives were “just the beginning”. He added: “If you have got a situation where you are not going to raise income tax and raise other taxes and you are also saying there are further cuts in welfare and other areas that are not protected that has to include the arts.”

Jane Bonham-Carter, the Liberal Democrat Lords spokeswoman for culture, said: “Where we are different from Conservatives is that we will not cut back to the bare bone. We believe that the books have to be balanced but we do not believe what we are hearing from the conservatives which is massive cuts that inevitably affect the museums sector.”
 
Responding to a question from Alistair Brown, the policy officer at the MA, about how the panel would tackle the imbalance of cultural funding between London and the regions, Vaizey said that while an organisation may have a London postcode it didn’t mean that the funding it received wasn’t going elsewhere. He said that national museums worked across the country.

“As far as the investment in the national museums, [which receive] a figure approaching £400m [there is an] imbalance. A lot of the national collections are in London and I don’t think anyone is proposing to move the National History Museum lock, stock and barrel outside of London, although I did see one Labour thinktank come up with that proposal,” he said.
 
Speaking after the event, Brown said: “There is clearly a substantial and growing funding gap between London and the rest of the country, no matter which way you approach the statistics.

“Sadly, we continue to see politicians denying its existence. This is just one reason why we need to see a real strategy for museums in England from the next government.”

During the debate Stevenson said DCMS has been so stripped of money and staff over the years that it is “virtually a non-department”.

He said a Labour government would concentrate on strengthening the department, which he described as “weak” and “not very effective”.

His comments came following a question from Tait on whether Ed Miliband’s plans to introduce a Prime Minister’s Committee for the arts, culture and creative industries would negate DCMS. Although, he said there were no plans to replace DCMS, it needed to be “rebuilt”.

Stevenson admitted not knowing how such a committee would work in practice but said the proposal to put culture at the “heart of government” could help to address “real difficulties” inherent with working across government departments, allowing culture to be better linked with areas such as education and criminal justice.

Bonham-Carter said the secretary of state for education should be involved with the Creative Industries Council – a joint forum between the creative industries and government.

Vaizey agreed that working across government departments was a “total complete utter nightmare”.

“If you have got an idea that would be better done by another department then you are on the road to hell in trying to persuade them to take on your idea,” he said. “Other government departments need to be fully engaged with culture."

Update
07.05.2015

This article has been updated to make clear that the hustings were for English museums.

Comments

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Anonymous
07.05.2015, 04:27
At last the message seems to be getting through that museums, heritage, and the arts in general, are the Cinderellas at the bottom of the government spending round. No political party in Britain cares about such things, despite the vital contribution which culture makes to generating revenues and enhancing our sense of national and local identity. We are all too genteel - the time has come to rattle the cage! Museums are being pushed into merchandising - so much for the Victorian ethos of self improvement, which at least had a noble moral dynamic. One despairs.
Anonymous
06.05.2015, 21:30
Would really appreciate it if the MA made a little bit of effort to remember that being a national body which represents its members interests means that it also has to represent Scotland, N Ireland and Wales. DCMS has no relevancy in Scotland. We actually have a different culture and heritage funding system in Scotland. Did you know that? It feels like the MA has no interest or awareness in museums north of the Border and the specific challenges we face. Not sure if there's much point in Scots being part of such an Anglo-centric body. Same goes for AIM too which is being funded by the Arts Council of England in large part. Can you tell we are feeling a bit marginalised and disenfranchised up here?
Sharon Heal
MA Member
Director, Museums Association
07.05.2015, 13:26
The MA is striving to understand and engage with the policy context and our members in all four nations of the UK. We are currently revising our policy on the nations and it will include a clear commitment to a fair distribution of our resources across the UK. We recently held a members' meeting in Dundee as part of our regular cycle of members' meetings and the first of our ethics consultation events was held in Glasgow last month. We have worked with MGS on Transformers our mid-career scheme and places are available again this year thanks to MGS funding and MA support. The hustings event was held taking into account that although it is a UK election, culture is a devolved responsibility. We will work with organisations in Wales, NI and Scotland to ensure that advocacy events are held in the run up to elections in those countries in 2016. We welcome feedback in this area and if there is more that you feel we need to understand please do contact me and I'm happy to discuss further.
Judith Martin
Project Organiser, Industrial Buildings Preservation Trust
06.05.2015, 16:45
Bickering over distribution of lottery funds ignores the point that lottery funding is not government money, nor was it ever meant to be.
As Baroness Andrews said about 18 months ago, the HLF used to be the icing on the cake; now it is the cake.
Wonderful things may be done with lottery funds but it is shameful in the 6th richest country in the world that important projects rely on the gambling of those who, on the whole, can least afford it. The reason there are more lottery funds to spend now is that gambling increases when people are desperate.