The Usher Gallery in Lincolnshire may be hired out as a wedding venue as a result of council cuts. © Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Councils slash funding for culture by almost £400m in eight years

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 31.01.2019
Research comes as museums face more cuts in spring budgets
Museums, galleries and libraries in England have seen their council funding fall by more than £390 since 2011, with those in county areas suffering the heaviest reductions, according to research by the County Councils Network.

Councils in rural areas and shire counties have slashed funding for culture by £169m – a drop of 30%, the analysis found. Metropolitan borough councils have cut their culture spend by £104m (28%). Councils in London have cut £75m from their culture budgets.

The CCN warned the downward trend in culture funding would continue as central government funding for councils shrinks while demand for care services soars. It has launched a campaign calling for a fairer distribution of funding and increased resource for county areas.

The research comes as several local authorities propose cuts and restructuring to museum and gallery services in their 2019-20 budgets. Lincolnshire County Council, which cut its budget for heritage services by £500,000 last year and is planning further reductions, is consulting on a major overhaul of its heritage services, which could involve closing several sites and moving to a cultural enterprise model.

According to the proposals, three smaller heritage attractions – Discover Stamford, Ellis Mill, Burgh le Marsh and Alford Windmills – would either transfer ownership or close, with their collections moving to a new “supersite” at the Collection Museum and Art Gallery.

The proposals would also see the Usher Gallery hired out for alternative purposes, with some of its collection retained at the neighbouring Collection Museum, and responsibility for Gainsborough Old Hall transferred to English Heritage.

Meanwhile, Bradford Council has reduced opening hours at Bradford Industrial Museum and Bolling Hall – two of its four museums – in order to cut costs. The council is also looking to develop “increased commercial opportunities” across its museums and galleries service.

Greater visibility urged

Museums that receive local authority funding were urged to make their impact more visible to councils at the Future of Civic Museums conference, which took place at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London last week.

Speaking at the conference, the Lib Dem council leader for Portsmouth, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, said: “There are lots of great examples of museums doing really good things, but you’ve got to look at how you influence decision-makers. If you’re not visible you aren’t going to get support when we do budgets. If you’re not telling councillors about the great work you’re doing, you’re not going to be heard.”

Vernon-Jackson said museums had the potential to contribute to key council priorities including public health and social care, economic growth and community cohesion. He said councils were increasingly focusing on their role as “place-makers” rather than service providers, and that museums could play a key part in this change of direction. 

The event was convened to reflect on the thinkpiece of the same name published by the English Civic Museums Network last year.

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