Spending cuts threaten national science museums

The Science Museum Group may completely close one of its three museums outside London, its director has said.

June 5, 2013

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Ian Blatchford said that the budget for the group - which as well as the Science Museum in London runs the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Railway Museum in York and the National Media Museum in Bradford - had already been cut by 25 per cent following the last government spending review and it had been warned it faced a further 10 per cent cut.

Mr Blatchford said that in the next financial year the group faced a £2 million deficit and that this would increase to £6 million. “At that level, we have to cut into flesh, we have to really make severe cuts,” he told a press briefing at the Science Media Centre in London about the government’s upcoming 2015-16 spending review, which will be announced on 26 June.

Despite a great deal of pressure from Manchester to give assurances that the group would not cut the museum there, he said he was “absolutely not going to give that assurance”. “The museum in Manchester is a wonderful museum… but at the moment, the risk of either severe cuts or complete closure is a very, very real option,” he said.

Asked why cuts would target one museum rather than being across the board, Mr Blatchford added: “I’d rather run a world-class op than a second rate one. It would be very easy to simply share cuts across the group, but what you end up with is [that] then no one wins.”

Mr Blatchford said that no decisions had been made and would not be until the group knew how much they would get, where it came from and what kinds of conditions were attached.

Any impression that London’s flagship Science Museum would be protected if one of the other museums were to close was “completely untrue”, he added, and that the museum “would take its fair share of cuts as well”.

However, Mr Blatchford said he remained hopeful the scenario would not play out, in part due discussions over a potential move for science museum funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

“All the great places in science are in BIS and we’re not, and I think going forward…that’s an anomaly needs to be addressed,” he said.

Speaking to Times Higher Education after today’s briefing, Mr Blatchford said moving funding was “a real prospect being actively discussed”, with the Natural History Museum in similar discussions. 

Mr Blatchford used the briefing to stress the role for museums in science engagement and outreach, adding that the group’s exhibition programme and education would be impacted by cuts. The key message was that for science, the SMG was “a vital organ, not some fancy optional extra”, he said.

The funding he sought in order to avoid cuts was relatively small, he said, adding “I feel like a poor cousin in a Dickens novel compared to the big numbers people are talking about here”.


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