Museums and Galleries - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 6:15 pm, 23rd January 2018

My Lords, I have two problems in answering this debate. One is that I have a slipped disc and it takes me about a minute to stand up without grimacing—I am not grimacing because I do not want to reply. The second problem is that I misinterpreted the debate and have a 20-minute speech instead of a 12-minute one. I will do the best I can so I will speak quickly, if I may.

I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for securing this debate and all other noble Lords for their interesting contributions. We are deeply committed to museums, as to all arts and culture. Museums play an important role in our lives and our society. They look after the historic, scientific, global and local collections that help us to understand the world around us and who we are as people. They make our towns and communities places where people and businesses want to be and to visit. They attract foreign visitors and give them a sense of Britain’s values.

The period of change that we have seen over recent years led the Government to commission a review, as we have heard. It is the first of the whole sector in more than 10 years, looking in depth at museums and their challenges and opportunities. This shows the importance that the Government place on museums and on culture. As we have heard, the Mendoza Review was published in November 2017, and the Government are very grateful for Neil Mendoza’s hard work over more than a year of research and thinking. I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, for her welcome of the review. The response from John Glen, the then Minister, was published the same day. He welcomed the review and committed to implement all its recommendations. I am pleased to say that Michael Ellis, the new Minister, has reiterated his enthusiasm as well.

I note first that Neil Mendoza and his team found that there is not a crisis in the museums sector, contrary to the perceptions which some may hold. There are, of course, some museums that have struggled and faced very serious problems, often because of councils and local authorities withdrawing funding. Many noble Lords mentioned this. It is sometimes difficult to accept hard decisions, but it is right that decisions which directly affect local matters are taken locally.

I absolutely do not wish to overlook the difficulties of some individual museums. Some museums have indeed closed, but museums should not be institutions that simply assume they can always exist as they have. Many museums have adapted and found different ways of doing things, and some new museums have opened. Overall, it was found that the museum sector is already impressive and well placed to thrive. For example, Neil Mendoza found great work in Norfolk, Barnsley, Derby, Cornwall and Manchester, and in many other places.

As many noble Lords have observed, the funding environment for some museums has been tight. The review goes into some length about how many museums have adapted to this. Many museums have innovated and found ways to make money go further, work together to share costs or generate more income. For the first time, the review brought together all public funding sources to museums, as much as is possible. They still receive over £800 million every year from 16 different sources. The Government continue to help museums. The new tax relief for exhibitions is now in effect and is expected to provide £30 million per year. There will be a further £4 million through the DCMS/Wolfson fund to be spent in 2019-20. Museums will also benefit from the Government’s recent announcements on creating a cultural development fund of £2 million to work on pilots —I make the point to my noble friend Lord Cormack that it is £2 million to work on pilots, not the actual amount to spend—and a £7.7 million curriculum fund.

We in DCMS are conscious of our role, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Eccles and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. We are taking steps to address the challenges in the sector. I have said that the Government agree with the review recommendations, as outlined by the former Minister John Glen, and I am therefore very pleased that he moved to the Treasury in the reshuffle. His successor, Michael Ellis, has met Neil Mendoza, and I know he is also very supportive.

Over time, we expect to implement the Mendoza Review in full. First, we will prioritise the museums action plan. The key improvement will be better joined-up activity between government funders. DCMS, Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund will produce a plan showing how their funding will be used more strategically across the country to support the nine priorities Neil Mendoza identified for the sector. We will also prioritise the partnership framework.