Scottish Executive Regional Development Challenge Fund: draft for consultation

Helen Wilkinson, November 2003,
Response from the Museums Association
General comments

In general, the Museums Association welcomes the proposal that Scottish museums should be encouraged to work together in ways which enable them to provide a better service to their users.

The idea of establishing a regional framework for joint working is sound and should enable funding to be channelled effectively to museums across Scotland. Once established, such a framework could provide a solid basis for applying any additional investment that the Executive is able to make available in future.

However, while the principles underpinning the framework may be sound, we believe that the plans for implementation need to be adjusted in several crucial respects to ensure that the investment does deliver benefits for museums and their users across Scotland. Most importantly, we are concerned that, as it is currently envisaged, the regional development framework may not succeed in increasing the capacity of Scottish museums.

The consultation document rightly identifies increasing capacity and sustainability of the museum sector through partnership as the key aim of the new investment. The proposed funding is clearly not enough to solve the problems of the Scottish museum sector, but it could be a step in the right direction with some adjustments.

We are also concerned that sufficient time be allowed for regional groupings to put together proposals for regional clusters. We think that implementation by April 2004 is too quick. If the Executive does decide to work to this deadline, then potential clusters will need support and nurturing, perhaps with the Scottish Museums Council playing a brokering role.

We know that plans for regional groupings are well advanced in some areas of the country but it seems likely that others will not be able to put together a sound and workable solution in time. If the clusters are not formed by groups of museums that have a coherent shared vision and a commitment to working together in the long term, there is a risk that the RDCF could achieve little more than any other programme of project funding.

The consultation document focuses on the role and work of the RDO, rather than on the development of a programme of collaborative work by a group of museums. This seems an odd emphasis. The work of an RDO is only one means to an end. More important are the improvements that are delivered to museum users, rather than the nature of the work plan of an individual.

If the focus is on process and administration, there is a danger that too much funding could be absorbed in bureaucracy. In terms of how available funding is spent, we believe that a better balance is needed between money for the RDOs, and money for them to do things with. We think it would help if the development of each of the regional clusters were to be viewed more holistically, and for this reason we think that a single application process for the posts and projects would be preferable.

Something to emerge clearly from the MA's seminar in Glasgow on 20th November was the idea of a Designation scheme for Scotland, to identify the most important museums and collections and then to use as a way of prioritising funding.

The MA supports the idea of developing such a scheme. Were it to be established, there would clearly need to be a close relationship between the regional partnerships and the museums recognised in this way.

Our more detailed comments are set out under each question below.

1. Are the identified aims and objectives appropriate to the Regional Development Challenge Fund?

Yes, we believe these aims and objectives are appropriate. Particularly laudable aims from our perspective are the intention to use the regional development officers to tie museums more closely into broader agendas and the community planning framework, and the aspiration to provide a coherent channel through which the non-national museums can engage with the national museums and other national institutions.

2. Are the themes appropriately stated?

Yes, we believe these themes are the right ones, and we are particularly pleased to see workforce development included.

3. Do you agree that the precise focus of the RDO post should be determined at local level?


Yes. We agree with this principle. In fact, we would argue for greater local variation in how the regional framework operates. We think that the Executive should allow applications that use a range of different structures, depending on the existing museum infrastructure in each area. In some areas, it may be crucial to have an RDO who can act as a figurehead and be a "heavy hitter" with local authorities. Some other groupings may already be strong administratively and it might be better for them to, say, employ a part-time RDO and use more funding for other staff in areas where they are weak.

4. What geographical area should the RDCF seek to cover? Should it aim to cover all areas of Scotland, or be demand-led?


and

5. Should priority be given to RDO posts based in the Scottish Cities, to link with the expected outcomes from the Cities Review?

We strongly believe that all areas of Scotland should be covered by the RDCF, and that it should not focus on cities. We believe this is partly a matter of basic fairness: one of the particular challenges of Scotland is its geography and the RDCF should try to improve the access to excellence for museum users in rural or remote locations.

6. Is it helpful to separate the application process for RDO posts and projects, or should the process be combined into one application for staff and project costs, supported by a business plan?


As noted above, we believe that the development of regional clusters or partnerships should be considered holistically. We do not believe that the focus should initially be on creating a single post. It would be much more helpful to consider from the outset what outcomes are sought and to put in place an appropriate structure to deliver them.

For that reason, we think there should be a single application process. To give museums more time to develop appropriate plans, the initial application could ask for an outline work plan and funding could be made conditional on the approval of a detailed implementation plan submitted at a later stage.

7. Are the proposals for matched funding realistic?


We approve of the principle that funding from the Executive should be supported by local investment and should be used to try to lever in additional support from other funders. However, the match funding requirement is likely to cause difficulties in practice for the many museums in Scotland whose financial situation is perilous. The consultation document suggests some flexibility as to what can be included as match funding. We believe that this kind of flexibility will be essential and that the Executive should ensure that no worthwhile projects are excluded because of difficulties in finding cash match funding.

8. Do you agree with the conditions for eligibility?


Yes.

9. Is the application process appropriate?


As noted above, we would like to see a single application for all aspects of each proposed project/cluster and sufficient time allowed for museums to form appropriate groupings.

10. Are the assessment criteria appropriate?


and

11. Is the proposed evaluation framework appropriate and realistic?


Yes.

12. What would be the most effective mechanisms for facilitating networking between RDOs to enable the sharing of best practice and peer support?


Clearly, regular meetings of the RDOs would help them to share experiences and learn from good practice. However, we hope that the RDOs will not be seen - and treated - as a homogenous group, since our belief is that their remits should be very varied, to suit the needs of their particular local areas.

For further information please contact:

Helen Wilkinson
Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
London
E1 6NW

Tel: 020 7426 6950

Email: helenw@museumsassociation.org

Thursday 27th November 2003