Draft Culture (Scotland) Bill, Consultation Document

Scottish Executive
Draft Culture (Scotland) Bill, Consultation Document
Response from the Museums Association
March 2007

1.0 Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums and galleries in the UK and people who work for them.

The Association has over 5,000 individual members and 600 institutional members. These institutional members encompass around 1500 museums in the UK ranging from the largest government-funded national museums to small volunteer-run charitable trust museums.

Formed in 1889, it is a charity, receiving no regular government funding, which seeks to inform, represent and develop museums and people who work for them in order that they may provide a better service to society and the public.

1.2 We are a UK-wide body and have nearly 400 individual and over 40 institutional members in Scotland (many of which run more than one museum), representing a good proportion of the sector, with members from the national institutions as well as local authority, independent and university museums.

We have a reserved place on our governing body for a representative from Scotland and a number of other governing body members, representing other interest groups, also work in Scotland.

1.3 As part of a two-year partnership project with the Scottish Museums Council (SMC), we have recently recruited an SMC/MA Development Officer for Scotland, who took up her post in January 2007.

Although the focus of this post is on workforce development and collections development, having the Development Officer on the MA staff is helping to foster cross-border understanding and share good practice from Scotland with English museums, and vice versa.

1.4 Our response begins with some general comments and answers to the consultation questions follow.

2.0 General Comments

2.1 We welcome the commitment of the Scottish Executive to promoting and developing culture in Scotland, demonstrated by the publication of this Draft Bill, which we see overall as a positive development.

2.2 Our two main concerns about the proposals are firstly that the place of museums within the Executive's vision for the development of culture in Scotland does not emerge clearly and secondly that the guidance on cultural entitlement represents something of a missed opportunity.

2.3 The lack of clarity about the place of museums in the Executive's plans for the development of culture in Scotland partly arises from an ambiguity of terminology: "culture" is sometimes used to mean the whole cultural sector, explicitly including the arts, heritage resources and library services (as on p.19 of the Guidance Document) and sometimes to mean the arts sector alone (as in the description on p.6 of the Consultation Document of Creative Scotland as "a single national cultural development body").

The Executive should not use the terms "culture" and "cultural" when it is only referring to the arts sector. Doing so gives the impression that the other parts of the broader cultural sector, including museums, are marginal to its thinking.

2.4 The approach to cultural entitlement envisaged by the Guidance Document sees local authorities as defining appropriate levels of provision for their area.

We believe this is a missed opportunity for the Executive to support certain key entitlements for everyone in Scotland, regardless of where they live. Of course, the provision of cultural facilities inevitably varies from area to area, depending on density of population and historical accident.

Nevertheless, we believe it should be possible for the Executive to define some basic entitlements (such as the opportunity for every school child to visit a museum every year), which all local authorities should aspire to provide.

3.0 Local Cultural Entitlements and cultural planning

3.1 Do you think that developing local cultural entitlements will help to increase participation in cultural activities?

It has the potential to do so, but only if the local authority takes community consultation seriously and commits additional resources to cultural provision.

As the guidance stands, there is a danger that entitlements will simply be a different way of expressing existing levels of provision.

3.2 If you believe further or alternative measures are necessary, what are they?

As mentioned above, we believe that the Executive could require all local authorities to provide certain basic cultural entitlements.

At the very least, the Executive should require local authorities to make provision across a defined range of types of cultural provision: as things stand, the provisions could simply enshrine existing levels of provision by allowing authorities to play to their strengths and not address their weaknesses.

3.3 How do you think the Scottish Executive and local authorities can best utilise the influence and impact of cultural activity?

While it is perhaps not appropriate for us to comment on the Scottish model of performance measurement and community planning in detail, an important general principle is that cultural activity should both be valued for its own sake, and for the contribution it can make to broader agendas, such as regeneration, community cohesion and health.

The mix of planning and performance measurement approaches adopted should reflect this.

3.4 Do you think the initial draft guidance under this Part of the Culture Bill is clear and helpful? Is there anything else it should contain?

It would be helpful if the guidance were more explicit about how authorities should build relationships with other cultural providers operating in their area.

There is a tendency in the guidance to assume that local authorities have a monopoly on cultural provision outside Edinburgh and this is far from being the case. In the museum sector, for example, many museums are run by charities, universities and the armed services.

4.0 Creative Scotland

4.1 Do you agree that there should be a single national cultural development body?

As mentioned above, it is vitally important that the Executive does not refer to Creative Scotland as "a single national cultural development body", since its remit does not include museums, the historic environment or libraries.

We believe that SMC plays a vital and distinctive role for Scotland's museums and that the decision not to bring them under the Creative Scotland umbrella was a good one.

But museums must not be marginalised because they fall outside Creative Scotland's remit. The Executive must maintain its relationship with the other cultural sector bodies and not have an exclusive conversation with Creative Scotland.

4.2 Do you agree with the remit proposed for Creative Scotland? Has it the right powers and functions?

We do not have any objections to Creative Scotland's proposed remit but, as noted above, the Executive needs to be clearer about what the limits of that remit are.

4.3 Do you agree that Creative Scotland should work in concert with the Scottish Executive to implement national cultural policy?

Yes, but being clear that this is with reference to the arts sector, and not with reference to the broader cultural sector (except in so far as Creative Scotland works in partnership with bodies such as SMC).

5.0 The National Collections

5.1 Do you agree that the National Collections should remain as constitutionally separate centres of excellence?

Yes, we believe it would be a mistake to attempt to merge the institutions.

5.2 As an aside, we believe the terminology National Collections is misleading and should be avoided in future, although it may offer a useful shorthand for the purposes of this consultation.

Recent developments in museology and museum practice across the UK and indeed across Europe have tended to emphasise that collections of national importance are not only held in national institutions (in the sense of those institutions that are run by central government).

Indeed the new Significance scheme, which we warmly welcome, explicitly recognises that museums across Scotland hold collections of national importance.

5.3 Do you think that the powers and functions proposed for the Collections in the draft Bill are right? If not, how would you improve them?

With some reservations, we welcome the suggestion that the National Museums of Scotland and the National Galleries of Scotland should be given a statutory role to provide advice and guidance to local museums and galleries.

Indeed, both bodies have been taking steps to strengthen their partnership working with local museums in recent years and this is welcome.

However, SMC also has a role in providing advice and guidance to the non-national museum sector and there is clearly potential for overlap and confusion here. Clearer definition is needed about the different responsibilities of the various bodies.

5.4 In addition, we would not want to see the responsibilities of NMS and NGS extended significantly, without additional resources (or an acknowledgement that their activities in other areas might have to be curtailed to enable them to fulfil this requirement).

The potential demand for advice and support is very high and reasonable limits must be imposed. We hope that the Executive will work with NMS, NGS, SMC and representatives of local museums to establish the scope of the national bodies' responsibilities in this area.

5.5 Do you agree that the Faculty of Advocates should be able to contribute to the board of the National Library by having at least one representative?

This question is beyond our remit to answer.

5.6 Do you agree that the Collections have appropriate powers to obtain, loan and dispose of objects for or from their collections? If not, what would you change?

The powers for NMS and NGS to dispose of objects proposed here are quite broad. The MA is keen to promote appropriate disposal, which includes encouraging more disposal where it is in the public interest, as well as discouraging inappropriate disposal.

We have no objection to broad powers to dispose, providing that they are exercised in accordance with accepted professional standards, including Accreditation and the MA Code of Ethics. This is something the Executive should be aware of, although it may be beyond the scope of the legislation.

5.7 What do you think of the name "National Record of Scotland"?

While this is beyond our remit, it does appear to us that the proposed name could give rise to confusion between the role and function of this new body and the National Archives of Scotland, since records and archives are generally taken as being more or less synonymous.

6.0 Offences about dealing in 'tainted' cultural objects

6.1 Do you agree that an offence similar to that in the 2003 Act should be introduced in Scotland?

Yes, we think it very important that such an offence be introduced, to prevent Scotland becoming a "backdoor" into the UK and a centre for the trade in tainted cultural objects.

7.0 Powers for local authorities to broadcast information. We have no comments on this section.

For more information or comment, please contact:

Helen Wilkinson
Policy Officer
Museums Association
24 Calvin Street
E1 6NW

020 7426 6954