Government funding should be scrapped for nationals like the British Museum, says IEA director-general Mark Littlewood

MA slams proposal to scrap DCMS and national museum funding

Geraldine Kendall, 20.04.2012
Thinktank suggestion is muddled and ideological, says MA director
The Museums Association has strongly criticised a proposal put forward yesterday by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) calling on the government to scrap the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and funding for national museums.

The free-market thinktank claimed that taxpayers would save £1.6bn if all spending on DCMS ceased. This saving could be used to slash the rate of corporation tax, cut fuel duty by 3p or partly abolish inheritance tax, the report suggested.

In addition, said the IEA, stopping government funding of national museums would save £0.5bn. The report estimated that the cost per visit per person to some of London’s national museums and the British Library ranged from £5 to £72.

IEA director-general Mark Littlewood said: “If the government isn’t seriously considering closing down DCMS, then it should start doing so now...

"The subsidies provided by DCMS should be ended altogether and any residual regulatory functions should be substantially liberalised and transferred to other departments.”

In a discussion with the MA's head of policy Maurice Davies on BBC Radio 4 this morning, Littlewood revised down his estimate that £1.6bn would be saved when it was pointed out that many of those costs would be transferred to other departments. “It would maybe save a billion or so,” he said.

After the programme, MA director Mark Taylor said: “The IEA director was very muddled and did little to hide the ideological nature of the proposal.

“He didn't seem to understand the difference between getting rid of DCMS and scrapping any public investment in the arts, he didn't seem to understand the contribution and impact of museums.

“He clearly did understand the price of everything -  it’s just that he understood the value of nothing.”

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Speaking to Littlewood on the programme, MA head of policy Maurice Davies said: “The cost of actually running DCMS itself is very small – the actual cost of the civil servants – and since DCMS was set up, first as the department of national heritage, museums have become far, far better, and culture has become far, far better.”

Addressing IEA’s suggestion of scrapping subsidies for national museums, Davies said: “All the evidence suggests that the numbers drop by about half when you start charging, which means ironically it costs more to the taxpayer for each visitor because most of the cost in those museums isn’t people coming through the door, it’s all the behind-the-scenes work."

Davies added: “I think about 90% of the money that goes to DCMS goes straight on to funding good things that millions and millions of people in this country enjoy and learn from.”

In response, Littlewood said entry charges should be reintroduced at national museums to replace government funding.

He said: “Maurice can’t have it both ways round. These are either museums and activities that millions of people gladly engage in and would pay for or they’re not – and if millions of people would gladly engage in and pay for them, let’s allow pricing to reflect that.”

The IEA proposal comes amid rumours that the government is planning to close DCMS not long after this summer’s Olympics and transfer responsibility for museums to the Department for Education.

In an article in the Evening Standard yesterday, shadow culture secretary Harriet Harman called on prime minister David Cameron to give a “categorical assurance” that he would not abolish DCMS.

Harman wrote: “The last thing ministers should be doing is thinking of abolishing the department which champions the arts in government.”

Click here to listen to Davies on BBC Radio 4. The discussion begins at 2:54



Comments

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Damian
MA Member
26.04.2012, 10:13
If there is no accountable minister or department specially devoted to cultural matters, there will be no central forum for debate about civilising influences in society and neither will there be a means of redress should barbaric or obscene material begin to displace beauty and integrity from the arts.