Museums and Galleries - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:07 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Andrews Baroness Andrews Deputy Chairman of Committees 5:07 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on obtaining it. It is not only timely but right that we should address these issues in the context of the national interest in general. The noble Lord has been such a splendid champion of the arts and shows no lack of energy in the pursuit of everything he chooses to do.

I want to concentrate on a few aspects of the Mendoza review and on the work of the Heritage Lottery Fund, of which I am a deputy chairman and chairman of the committee for Wales, so I declare my interest. The Mendoza review is a good report. It demonstrates a breadth and depth of understanding of the character and culture of museums. It is the first report of its kind for 10 years, and it does a great service. It is extremely welcome. Its delight in the infinite variety of our museums, from pencils to gasworks, from historic houses to coalmines, is patently evident on every page. It delights, too, in the stories that museums tell of people and place, and in the space they provide not just for heritage and memory but increasingly for health, enterprise and learning. I welcome the report.

This debate focuses on the challenges facing museums and galleries, and they are, by definition, identified in the nine priorities the report sets out. Right at the top of the list is funding, a changing funding landscape and the need to adapt to it. It also identifies the need to engage more widely, to diversify audiences—that is a common theme—and to contribute to place making, which is relatively new. It is the positive relationship between these three elements that I will focus on.

As the noble Lord said, the report does not shy away from the hard fact that there has been a 13% drop in funding in real terms since 2007 and massive cuts in local authorities. The axe has fallen differently in different places, but every local museum and gallery is struggling to care not just for rare and deteriorating collections but often for fragile historic buildings. They are struggling to keep curators and expertise. In many instances, they are struggling to keep the doors open. We know from the Museums Association of 40 museums that closed between 2005 and 2014, and of 11 in 2016 alone. It all adds up to a lack of resilience and capacity, and means that no exhortation to adapt to a new funding regime is going to shift the reality, particularly outside London, that finding more commercial funding or philanthropic income, wealthier partners or new organisational structures is often extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. That is why I welcome two particular recommendations in the report: that the funding agencies should give priority to the existing estate and to sustainability. But although there is always scope for improvisation, I could not agree more with the noble Lord when he said that there is a limit to what can be done within the existing resource structure. It is time now for the Government to play their part, as a full partner, in what they recognise contributes so much to national economic prosperity and social resilience.

Sustainability depends not least on museums being valued and used as exhaustively as possible. Museums and galleries are already doing that and have become very good at it. Organisations such as Kids in Museums are taking children into museums to be curators, actors and front of house. There is tremendous innovation there, including in what local museums are doing, for example, with dementia groups. I must reference Wales. The National Museum Wales is doing fantastic work, particularly in the new St Fagans museum, as it will be, involving unemployed and homeless people in forming the vision and the practice of the new museum.

Strong partnerships are emerging, but we need stronger partnerships and all museums and galleries to develop them. That is the key to future sustainability. The other key is embedding museums and galleries not just in place but in policy. Perceptions are changing. It is no longer all about Wakefield and Margate, although they have been pioneering in what they have demonstrated culture can achieve. Culture can make for great places, as the Local Government Association says in its recent report on this. However, it is crucial not just to have a national strategy across all departments which optimises that fact but for local authorities to develop local strategies. Here I think the report could have been more aggressive in urging all local authorities to capitalise on the assets in their place as part of their explicit social and economic planning, not least as a way of addressing the false choices that are so often made between investing in culture and investing in social care.

Above all, the Mendoza review addresses a gap in both analysis and approach with the recommendation that public funds need to be spent more strategically, around agreed priorities, shared intelligence and a greater understanding of impact. There has been, apart from the role of designation, a historic failure to identify in the national interest not just what we value in our museums and galleries but what is most at risk and where the most can be achieved by investing in capability and resilience.

Most help can usually be used in places where they are very used to it, but I am more concerned about more disadvantaged areas where they are not quite so good at accessing funds. The review is clear that this means deciding how scarce resources can be made to go further by national agencies and national partnerships working more closely together. That has been welcomed by everybody, including the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Finally, I will say a few words in response to what the noble Lord said about the Heritage Lottery Fund. Since its inception, it has changed the face of museums and galleries in this country. It has invested an astonishing amount, £2.4 billion. Most of that has gone into construction, buildings and refurbishment; the rest across the range of things that museums have to do. But now, because of fluctuating lottery receipts, there will be less funding for all forms of heritage projects. We have discussed this with DDCMS and our heritage partners. We do not have the historically high amounts that we used to have. We do indeed have £190 million for 2018 and it is a great deal of money, but that is why we will now clarify priorities, consult on ways of working and commit to the action plan on museums, as we are invited to.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for creating the opportunity today to set out what I think are some of the challenges.