Cuts force more museums to close

Russell-Cotes Museum in Bournemouth Bournemouth's Russell-Cotes Museum introduced an entry fee to generate income after a budget cut in 2011

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Galleries and museums across the UK are shutting down or reducing their opening hours because of ongoing budget cuts, according to a new survey.

Of the 114 institutions questioned by the Museums Association, 22% have closed all or part of their sites in the last 12 months.

Services to schools have also been dramatically reduced.

Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, said there was "no prospect of an upturn any time soon".

"Funding isn't getting any better and in many cases it's getting worse," he explained.

"Of most concern is that public access is down and this is of particular concern to smaller, community museums. They are affected most by the cuts and if they start to die, it's unlikely they'll ever come back.

"It is sad because these museums are the soul of the towns and villages they are in."

Recent closures include the the Malton Museum in Ryedale, which shut in February, and the Museum of Nottingham Life.

National museums were not included in the Museum Association's report and the 114 which took part in the survey were a small representation of the 2,000 institutions in the UK.

However, Mr Taylor said they were selected on the basis that "they would represent a cross section of museums".

"We believe the survey is a pretty good representation of regional museums in the UK," he added.

Higher Charges

Fifty-one per cent of those surveyed reported a cut in their budgets since last year, which had a negative impact on their public-facing services.

Of those, 42% had fewer staff, with many compensating for cuts with higher charges for school visits.

The director of an independent museum in the south of England commented: "We have introduced charges in free areas, which obviously changes the relationship with the community and stakeholders and we have cut back in work for schools."

Almost a third of museums have experienced a cut to their budget of more than 10% and the report states it is this group that has felt the greatest impact, with a reduction in the quality of service the biggest threat.

"We have taken such a cut to staff that inevitably the amount of development work will reduce," commented an exhibitions manager from a local authority museum in the north of England.

"We have fewer curators and education staff. The museum will drive towards using more volunteers, generating income and have less development work and the quality of the exhibitions will decrease."

Volunteers

With cuts to staff numbers, volunteers are playing an increased role. However the report warns that, while volunteers bring benefits, they should not replace professionals.

"Museums have always relied on volunteers," said Mr Taylor.

"We need them. But you still need input from people who have been trained in the particular area and have expertise. On their own, volunteers are not the solution."

The survey, which was undertaken in April and May 2012, examined the impact of the government's austerity measures over the last 12 months and the changes museums have made to survive the tough financial climate.

It covered England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and while all types - including national, local, independent, military and university museums - suffered, 60% of those hit were funded by local authorities.

Still more institutions face closure or reduced opening times in the months ahead as pressures on council budgets continue.

Kirklees council in West Yorkshire voted last month to close Tolsen Museum for two days a week from November.

While the report paints a rather bleak picture, it notes a determination to improve services, which Mr Taylor said was a "reflection of the strength and commitment of the museum sector and the people who work in it".

Some museums are looking at ways to diversify income and add value to their existing services, with 69% of respondents planning to concentrate on generating more income over the next year and 62% increasing their fundraising activity.

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