Response by the Museums Association to the Audit Commission's proposals for Comprehensive Performance Assessment from 2005 regarding museums within cultural services that local authorities provide

February 2005
1. Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) welcomes this opportunity to comment on the Audit Commission's proposals to assess cultural services in general and museum services in particular in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment from 2005 (CPA 2005) of local authorities in England and Wales.

1.2 The MA is an independent membership organisation representing museums in the UK and the people who work in them so that they may provide better services for everyone. The MA has over 600 institutional members, of which 170 are local authority services in England, and 5,000 individual members, many of whom work in those services.

1.3 The MA strongly supports the fact that in CPA 2005 the Audit Commission proposes to include cultural services and hence museum (and gallery) services alongside other services such as housing and environment. This will mean councils that provide a museum service will be able show that it meets or exceeds minimum standards of museum provision if they wish to improve and achieve a good or excellent rating.

This will make sure that the museum service is included in a council's drive to improve. If culture and hence museums are omitted there is a threat that often much needed investment in these services will be diverted to other council services already included in the CPA and carrying greater weight in assessments.

1.4 Including museums in the assessment of local authority performance has the potential to raise the profile of museums in the eyes of elected members, chief executives and senior officers. Measuring museum performance also has the potential to provide the evidence needed to make the case for increased investment where this is needed, which is often the case, identify priorities for improvement or to highlight excellence.

1.5 But we recognise that work is needed to develop and define the measurements that will demonstrate in a robust way how well museum services are performing. Schemes such as Renaissance in the Regions mean that some museums are better able to measure impact and performance but as in the cultural sector as a whole more needs to be done. The MA, therefore, welcomes the opportunity to work with the Audit Commission to develop appropriate measures that reflect shared national and local priorities.

1.6 We also wish to remind the commission of the fact that independent museums contribute significantly to cultural provision. They often work in partnership with local authorities and are part funded by them.

2. Overall categories and scoring

2.1 We support the proposal to move from relative 'quartile' performance indicators to absolute indicators, and we agree with the proposal to score performance on a scale 1-4, with 1 for a service that does not meet minimum standards and 4 for a service that delivers well above a minimum standard.

2.2 We welcome the opportunity to work with the commission and others to develop these standards in the period of transition, from 2005 to 2007, as the new assessment is introduced, with museum services as part of that assessment.

3. Direction of travel

3.1 We also support the proposal to include a 'direction of travel' statement to indicate whether a local authority is progressing: strongly, well, making limited progress or falling behind.

4. Performance information

4.1 We recognise that cultural services, including museums, will need time to develop a set of measurements that indicate their performance in a robust way.

4.2 Museum services will also need central support from their local authorities to measure performance. Without such support there is a real risk that measuring performance will actually reduce the quality of service that the public receives as staff and resources are diverted to collecting data and reporting it.

5. Broad themes

4.1 The MA agrees with the proposed broad themes for cultural services in particular the contribution museum services make to achieve:

· healthier more active communities
· independence and well being, participation and community sustainability
· value for money and service efficiency.

5. Performance measurements

5.1 Measuring the social benefits of any cultural service, not least a museum's, is by its very nature notoriously difficult to do. But the MA recognises that quantitative data is necessary to show how well museum services are performing and how they can meet local and national priorities.

5.2 The MA supports the following already established indicators and the Museum Library Archive council's (MLA) Museum Accreditation scheme. These are:

· Accreditation
· Levels of attendance in museum services (or BVPI 170 a,b,c)*
· Electronic access to museum services (or BVPI 157)
· Satisfaction with museums, adults and young people (or BVPI 119 and general household survey)
· Museum buildings accessible to people with a disability (or BV156)**

5.3 *Regarding attendance (or BVPI 170 a,b,c), we would urge that the three measures of attendance are not combined and that general visits and school visits are considered separately. The investment needed to increase attendance by general visitors, whether through gallery refurbishment, investing in a more ambitious exhibition programme and marketing both is different from developing an education service that meets the needs of school children and their teachers.

5.4 **With regards making museum buildings physically accessible to people with a mobility disability (or BV156), we would wish to point out that museums are often housed in historic buildings invariably with many level changes. Some parts of a museum in a historic building will be inaccessible to people with reduced mobility even when new interventions such as lifts or ramps have been granted listed building consent.

5.5 Providing access to all floors, for example, could alter the very thing that makes that part of a building historic. Also under the Disability Discrimination Act the museum would not be expected to make such a change if it was not a reasonable adjustment. In such cases good museums provide alternative, virtual access to inaccessible spaces or objects through audiovisual displays, computer interactives or other forms of accessible interpretation.

5.6 We would urge the commission to recognise that it is just as important to have information about the museum, its collection and building in an accessible format for people with a disability.

6. Volunteering

6.1 The commission proposes that the level of volunteering is measured. While we accept this in principle what is meant by volunteering will need to be defined. To be mutually beneficial any project involving volunteers needs to be well managed, which is labour intensive. Trying to working with too many volunteers at once may well result in an unsatisfactory experience for the volunteer and the museum. Also some museums have long-term volunteers, while others are developing fixed term projects as, for example, a way of getting younger people involved. This has implications for how volunteering is measured.

7. Targeting

7.1 The MA believe in the importance of museum services improving the way they monitor the social and cultural diversity of their visitors. It is a vital part of attracting new visitors, and identify non-visitors. We would, therefore, welcome the opportunity to work with the commission and others in the museum sector to agree how best this might done and which groups (social-economic, age or otherwise) should be targeted national and locally. It is also important to recognise that targeted groups will vary between local authorities.

8.1 Third party commentaries

The MA accepts the commission's proposal to include third-party commentaries from the regional arms of the MLA and the Arts Council (AC) in principle. But we would want to work with the commission, MLA and AC on the framing of such commentaries and how they are interpreted to achieve reliability and consistency.

For more information email the MA's policy officer, Helen Wilkinson: