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Local Libraries and Regional Museums

Volume 711: debated on Thursday 24 March 2022

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport works very closely with its public sector bodies to support the libraries and museums sector. Through the libraries improvement fund, for example, we are investing £5 million in 25 library services to upgrade buildings and technology and equip them to meet the changing needs of local communities. DCMS will directly support regional museums with £18.8 million of investment through the museum estate and development fund this year and through the DCMS Wolfson museums and galleries improvement fund, which opens in May.

I thank my hon. Friend for the significant financial support from the cultural recovery fund that his Department has already given the Aerospace Bristol museum and STEM learning centre in Filton in my constituency. Will he give serious consideration to its application to become an Arts Council national portfolio organisation for 2023 to 2026?

To date, the cultural recovery fund has given out £1.5 billion in grants and loans to around 5,000 organisations. I am pleased that our investment has helped support fantastic cultural organisations such as Aerospace Bristol, which I have had the pleasure of visiting with my hon. Friend. Arts Council England decides independently which organisations to fund; the national portfolio programme is a competitive process, in which the Arts Council makes decisions on funding based on the applications it receives and, obviously, the criteria. I therefore cannot comment on this particular case, but I wish Aerospace Bristol all the best in its application. It is a great institution.

Libraries are cultural institutions that are perhaps most accessible to a lot of the people we talk about wanting to help, who will often go into a library more easily than they might to a museum or theatre. Local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide a comprehensive service. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that local authorities are meeting that obligation and that our libraries continue to be able to offer access to all parts of our communities?

The hon. Gentleman is right: libraries fulfil a vital role in our local communities. The partnership between central Government, DCMS through various funds and, of course, the huge amount of money—about £600 million—that local authorities put into library services, is really important. If there are particular issues and councils are closing down libraries inappropriately, the Secretary of State could possibly get involved. If the hon. Gentleman faces that situation, he should please let us know.

Bury Transport Museum, which is part of the east Lancashire heritage railway in my constituency, not only preserves our regional automotive and steam engine heritage, but is a centre for education and skills training. I thank my hon. Friend for the hundreds of thousands of pounds that have been invested in the institution from the culture recovery fund. Will he agree to visit that brilliant museum and view its proposed £10 million project at Buckley Wells to preserve the world’s oldest continuously in-use steam engine locomotive shed?

How can I turn down an offer like that, Mr Speaker? As my hon. Friend says, our heritage, including our industrial heritage, is really important to this country. Support through various funding schemes—obviously, the culture recovery fund really helped—and on an ongoing basis, including through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, is really important in sustaining those entities. I would be delighted to visit.

I declare an interest, as chair of the John Clare Trust, in the English poet’s house in Helpston near Peterborough and Stamford. Will the Minister do something for me and give the National Trust a good shaking? So often, the small literary houses and smaller places get neglected. The National Trust, with all its vast reserves, is obsessed with the great mansions of the rich and the powerful from the past. When will these little museums get the extra help that they need?

The hon. Member is making a powerful point. He will be aware that the National Trust is an independent institution, but I meet with it regularly. It fulfils a vital function in this country and I would be happy to raise with it his valid points.

Darlington Hall is a very special place in our national railway story, so I welcome Tees Valley Combined Authority’s £20 million investment in our rail heritage quarter and the expansion of the Head of Steam museum. Will the Minister outline what further steps his Department can take to support such local heritage sites?

Railways are the theme of this morning, and for good reason. My hon. Friend is right that they fulfil a vital role. The culture recovery fund helps to sustain many of them. Many heritage institutions, including railways, have received further support through various other Government initiatives, and many heritage institutions benefited from the levelling-up fund. Again, I would be happy to talk to him about how the National Lottery Heritage Fund could further support their goals.

Regional museums are great, but let us not forget about local museums. From Tameside’s Portland Basin Museum to Stockport’s Hat Works Museum, they tell the story of who we are. However, research from the Museums Association shows that there has been a 27% decline in spending on local museums by local government since 2010. What is the Minister’s Department doing to ensure that councils invest in local museums so that we can continue to tell the story of our local communities?

The hon. Member partly answered his own question, in that this is a partnership between local authorities and the museums. It is also about reaching out to the private sector, which contributes to our museums, as well as Government support. We are trying to help when and where we can, for example, with the £18.8 million investment through the museum estate and development fund this year and through the DCMS Wolfson museums and galleries improvement fund, which opened in May. However, this is a partnership between central Government and local authorities, as he articulated.