Lottery strings bind museums

January 9, 1998

CASH-STRAPPED university museums and galleries could get Pounds 3 million from a funding council to help them bid for lottery funds. But museum heads fear that few, if any, institutions will benefit.

Alistair Smith, chairman of the University Museums Group, which represents directors of university museums and galleries, says the offer of support for bids "promises to be tied up in such a way that only a few museums will be able to benefit. University museums are too badly off to feel confident about raising the necessary matching funds needed".

The Higher Education Funding Council for England proposed last October to make the Pounds 3 million available over three years but details are only now emerging of how it will be allocated. Only bids of Pounds 3 million or over would be eligible for support, the council has said. HEFCE's maximum contribution would be 3 per cent or Pounds 250,000. A lottery bid for Pounds 3 million would therefore gain a maximum of Pounds 90,000 from HEFCE. To attract the Pounds 250,000 maximum HEFCE support, a bid of around Pounds 9 million would have to be put together.

Mr Smith, director of theUniversity of Manchester's Whitworth Art Gallery, said the proposal took no account of the real needs of university museums and few would be able to mount a bid sizeable enough to justify significant support. He added: "As the proposal stands, it would mean that four museums would have to make bids of Pounds 9 million each to use up the Pounds 1 million offered by HEFCE in that year."

The plight of university museums was highlighted by the Museums and Galleries Commission recently. It warned that "almost all university museums face severe funding problems, which in some cases threaten their survival".

There are about 400 university collections which include science and art of national and international importance. University museums generally receive all or part of their funding through the block grants to institutions provided by the funding councils. A few with collections of national importance receive additional "non-formula funding" in recognition of the extra cost of caring for collections and provision of access and services to the wider public.

Eleven university museums were recently designated by government as holding collections of national or international importance. But Mr Smith said "this has simply delivered to them extra responsibilities without extra funding".

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