Response to consultation on The National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Culture and other fields) Order 2009

Consultation - Cultural Duty Order
September 2009

1 Introduction

1.1 The Museums Association (MA) is an independent membership organisation representing museums, galleries and heritage organisations 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. The MA has 392 members in Wales.

1.2 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.

1.3 In this response the term "museums" is used to refer to all public museums, galleries and heritage sites in Wales unless indicated otherwise.

2 General comments

2.1 The MA welcomes the decision by the Welsh Assembly Government to investigate the Legislative Competence Order for Culture and, in principle, supports the statutory provision of museum and gallery services by local authorities. It is an opportunity to both safeguard the collections and services in museums with improved protection from funding cuts, and to develop these services further - improving cultural provision where it may currently fall below standards achieved in some parts of Wales.

2.2 Our members in Wales have expressed some concerns about the how local authority museum services would change when they become a statutory requirement. While a clear duty for local authorities to provide museum services is desirable, the MA would advocate detailed consideration of the proposal so that lessons might be learned from statutory provision of library services.

2.3 The MA hopes that in considering the approach to how museum services are provided by local authorities, the Welsh Assembly and local authorities can maximise the good practice that exists in museums in Wales that currently excel - for example relating to partnerships with community organisations, or the most creative uses of collections for audiences.

2.4 In making museums a statutory service, care needs to be taken to allow flexibility in how different museum services operate and how their performance is managed. Our members are concerned that changes will lead to a 'tick-box' approach from local authorities, and performance management based on generic and simplistic targets. The MA would urge that a more nuanced approach is taken to value the different ways in which museums engage users and affect their lives while caring for the country's heritage.

2.5 A further concern from local authorities is that the competence order will bring responsibility for museum provision without extra funding. This makes the application of statutory provision of museums more difficult, and therefore understanding of the role and potential of museums all the more important. It will also be important to link the provision of museum services with other statutory services, for example libraries and schools.