Museums in cash crisis

August 21, 1998

A NATIONAL Heritage study says that lack of funding is forcing many of Britain's museums to lay off staff, cut services and freeze vital projects.

The report also claims that some local authority museums have been downgraded, being regarded as easy targets for cost cutting as the economy continues to slow down.

The conclusions are based on a questionnaire sent out to 456 museums and galleries. Thirty per cent responded.

National Heritage said the study was prompted by reports that Buckinghamshire County Council Museum at Aylesbury, a recent winner of the annual National Heritage/National Provident Insurance Museum of the Year Award, was to close. The survey shows that Aylesbury museum is by no means unique. "Even some of the most prominent museums have similar problems," says National Heritage. "The budget provided to run the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, for instance, has gone down by some 20 per cent in the past five years."

Cuts in real terms were reported by 46 out of 83 museums. Staff reductions were reported by 66 museums. Of the areas of expertise affected, museums mentioned cuts in curatorial staff; 12 in management, nine in conservation and seven in administration.

John Letts, chairman of National Heritage, said: "Museums seem to have missed out on the bonanza around them. Although Heritage Lottery funding offered some hope, the reliance on matching funds puts an intolerable strain on dwindling staff and on the cultural family's poor relations, among whom museums are a pre-eminent example." He said mandatory matching fund requirements for all lottery funding spending organisations should be abandoned.

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