Continued cuts forcing museums to close, finds MA Cuts Survey

Nicola Sullivan, 13.01.2016
MA director warns that museum services could be wiped out in parts of the country
Cuts to public funding mean that more museums are being forced to close their doors or introduce entry charges, according to research conducted by the Museums Association (MA).

The Cuts Survey 2015 found that almost one in five (18%) of all museums had closed a part or branch of their museum to the public in the past year or would do so in the year to come. 

According to the MA, 44 museums have closed across the UK since 2010, and news of closures in Lancashire and Durham, Dudley and Leicestershire indicate a growing trend.

Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, says: “Museums that serve local communities deliver real public benefit and there is a danger that whole areas of the country will have these services wiped out if the cuts continue.

“We are particularly concerned about the impact of the cuts to local authority funding in the English regions and the devolved nations. The MA will continue to advocate for all museums and the life-changing experiences that they can provide.”

The findings also showed that 8% of respondents had introduced charging in the past year, while 12% said they would do this in 2016. Last year both Brighton Museums and York Art Gallery introduced charges for entry.

A growing number of respondents are considering selling items from their collections: further evidence of the grave financial pressures the sector is under. The data showed that 11% of all respondents were considering financially motivated disposal in the next year, up from 9% in 2014. One of the most high profile cases in recent years was Northampton Borough Council’s controversial sale of the Egyptian statue Sekhemka in July 2014.       

However, the data indicated that the sector is not taking the funding cuts lying down, with many museums working hard to survive in the longer term.

The findings showed that 12% of museums had changed their governance model in the last five years. This breaks down as 3% moving to a trust, 1% moving to a social enterprise and 8% moving to another arrangement, such as a community interest group or a mixed model.

While year-on-year overall public funding decreased by 2% and income from grants and donations fell by 4%, self-generated income increased by 6%. This shows that museums are attempting to mitigate the worst of the cuts by exploring new commercial opportunities, boosting retail sales and maximising the value of their buildings and collections.

Fundraising and income generation are a top priority for the coming year with 79% and 77% respectively saying that they will be increasing the amount of work in these areas.

Overall the figures showed there was no reduction in respondents’ total income, but this masks the substantial difference in the fortunes of different types of museums. Local authority museums have experienced the worst of the cuts.

According to the Cuts Surveys from 2013-14 and 2014-15, total income fell for local authority museums, nationals, independent museums, which reported year-on-year decreases of 2%, 1% and 1% respectively. 

Local authority museums were also hardest hit by the savings outlined in the spending review, which will bring in a 53% cut in the local government grant from 2015-16 to 2019-20. 

The spending review also ushered in a real-terms reduction to the block grants given to devolved nations. The impact on budgets for Wales and Scotland is evident, but budgets for administrations in Northern Ireland have not yet been set.

Heal answered questions about the Cuts Survey on the BBC's World at One today. 

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Cuts Survey 

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