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Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

11. What assessment has been made of the effect of his Department's renaissance programme on regional museums in (a) England and (b) the east of England. (287447)

My Department has invested £242 million in the renaissance in the regions programme, which aims to raise standards and participation in museums across England. Since its inception in 2002, visitor numbers have increased by 18.5 per cent. In the east of England, visits by children aged 16 and under to hub museums have increased by 216 per cent. In addition 72 new jobs have been created in hub museums in the eastern region.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps it shows my ignorance but I do not know what a hub museum is. The museums in Southend are very good, but residents and children in particular from Southend often travel to London to visit some of the larger museums. What more can be done through the renaissance programme to encourage visits to regional museums, particularly by people from the east of England and other regions that are quite close to central London?

I know that the Department’s statutory body, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, has been working with Southend to increase its offer. I know that the council has many exciting projects, particularly concerning the Saxon King museum, and that a bid has been submitted for the Southend pier head project. As Minister for the East of England, I am obviously watching all those things closely and I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman with that work.

Snibston discovery park is a regional museum based on the former colliery of that name, sunk by the great George Stephenson. Would the Minister accept an invitation to come and look at the work that is done there? Creativity, energy and professionalism has enabled the museum to reinvent itself in the most impressive fashion. It is a successful museum for an area much wider than north-west Leicestershire. We could do worse than to have that as a beacon for the way ahead.

As this is my first appearance under your watchful eye, Mr. Speaker, may I add to the legion of congratulations that have been sent your way and put on record my huge admiration for the job you are doing? [Hon. Members: “More!”] I still have three minutes, and I could go on.

On Wednesday, the Minister will publish her independent review of renaissance in the regions, which she will describe as a real success. The report itself is, however, highly critical of the management of renaissance in the regions, including the criticisms of incomplete accounts, a lack of financial reporting and a lack of documentation. Is this why the report, which was given to the Minister at the beginning of March, is being published only at the end of July—the beginning of the summer recess?

The report is, in fact, being published in two days’ time. [Interruption.] Yes, but that is not the end of July. It is being published on 22 July, and until it comes out I shall not comment on it.