Museums and Galleries - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:47 pm on 23rd January 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench 5:47 pm, 23rd January 2018

“Where’s the cash?” was the forward and impatient response by the Guardian to the Mendoza review in its editorial on 14 November last year. The Museums Association said,

“we are disappointed that despite recognising the severe funding difficulties experienced by many museums, the government has failed to identify any new resources or capacity to improve the sustainability of the sector”.

As the MA reported last year, for the whole of the UK—for which figures are more readily available than just England—at least 64 museums closed, alongside a 31% drop in real-terms funding between 2010 and 2016. Concerning the future, according to the Local Government Association, local services generally, covering England and Wales, face a £5.8 billion gap in 2019-20, and the 1% council tax flexibility—not in any case the fairest point to introduce an extra tax burden—will be,

“nowhere near enough to meet”,

the gap.

The plain fact is that a number of the key priorities set out by the Mendoza review simply will not be effectively achieved without proper funding through local authorities, because so much depends on the day-to-day running of those local and regional museums for which council funding is, frankly, irreplaceable, and this despite the continuous exhortation over many years now by central government to find other means of funding. Indeed, an acceptance of the Government’s stance is an aspect of the review itself.

A key and important priority of the review is cultural education. It is hugely important for our museums to act as educational tools—windows on the world for children and adults. One of the latest announcements of cuts, in December, was of the 50% cut by Eastbourne Borough Council to the Towner Art Gallery, which chair David Dimbleby believes jeopardises its significant learning programme. The DCMS’s own report last year showed a worrying 6.9% decrease in educational visits for under-18s to DCMS sites. There is a parallel here, as the National Society for Education in Art and Design points out, with the reduction in teaching hours in schools, as reported by the Cultural Learning Alliance.

It is right that the national bodies should work more closely together but councils cannot and should not be perceived as being shut out of the frame. The Arts Council, quite correctly, makes it very clear that it is not there to pick up the shortfall.

As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, set out passionately in his opening speech, we have extraordinary public collections and put on wonderful special exhibitions. Anyone who watched the BBC series “Britain’s Lost Masterpieces” will realise that we have more than we even thought we had. The additional funding provided by the lottery—so helpful, as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, explained, for refurbishment and many other things—sometimes erroneously gives the impression that all is okay, particularly in London. On the subject of the lottery, will the Minister respond to the concerns about last year’s fall in lottery income? We have recently had a National Audit Office report which points out a decreasing interest in draw-based games, with, however, increased profits for Camelot.

The permanent public collections belong to us. They need to be properly displayed and seen as often as possible, maintained and conserved in museums fit for purpose and staffed with experts. We have much of that but are in danger of losing it for some of our museums, although all of them are pinched. Our local and regional museums are important parts of our community and should be properly funded through local councils by central government. Central government is failing us. The public deserve better.

Working internationally is one of the priorities of the review for our museums. On the potential effect of Brexit, a survey carried out last week of galleries participating in last weekend’s London Art Fair discovered that the primary concern was about free movement of people and goods. There is clearly concern over the movement both ways of artists, gallerists, staff and many others who are part of this industry. One should add here too that museums and galleries are about cultural exchange and knowledge, and our future participation in Erasmus+ is germane to the argument. We need to be careful here. I think it is very likely that we will remain within Erasmus; rather, our level of participation is the crucial issue. To retain the currently meaningful benefits, our participation must remain on the same level as that of all other countries within the EEA. There are also considerable fears over an increase in licensing requirements, which may severely affect our ability to lend and borrow artworks.

The galleries’ second major concern is around their tax status and about which way VAT on goods moving between the UK and other countries will go. What assurances can the Minister give that the Government as a whole, who will have some control over these areas, are taking these matters seriously? These are concerns that affect the arts and the creative industries more generally.

Finally, I ask the Minister, if he has not already done so, to look carefully at the measured speech which the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, made during the debate on the ivory trade on 21 December and which was answered by Defra. Our significant cultural heritage and our living environmental heritage are both important. We need to preserve both.