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Brexit: Museums and Galleries

Volume 796: debated on Monday 4 March 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their latest assessment of the impact of Brexit on national museums and galleries.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and declare an interest as the chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions.

My Lords, DCMS is working with our world-leading national museums and galleries in England to evaluate the potential impacts of Brexit and supporting them as they develop and implement their plans. Due to the ongoing uncertainty, some national museums and galleries have implemented elements of their plans for Brexit, particularly around the movement of objects in March and April.

Is the Minister aware of the sickening abuse suffered by some front-of-house EU nationals at a number of our great cultural institutions, making many reluctant to wear name badges? That aside, there are three areas of particular concern: the ability to recruit and retain staff, particularly those with language skills; the worry that overseas visitors may give the UK a miss this year, until Brexit issues are clarified; and, importantly, whether DCMS and the Treasury will replace the EU culture funds vital to many building projects and exchange programmes.

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s first point about staff being abused, we were aware of that, particularly after the result of the referendum was announced, but we are not aware of it recently. I should make it absolutely clear that it is deplorable, unacceptable and should not happen and that we welcome foreign nationals working in and visiting our museums. It is possible that tourism may go down, but we are optimistic. In fact, VisitBritain forecasts that visits will grow by 3.3% this year, which is similar to the average rate.

Turning to European cultural funds, for the museum and gallery sector these are remarkably small. One or two individual museums have had European funding and we will guarantee to support funding until the end of the multiannual financial framework. However, to put it into perspective, all public funding for museums and galleries is about £844 million a year. The biggest European fund, Horizon 2020, has given €14 million in the entire seven-year multiannual framework.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that many of the greatest exhibitions in London and the provinces depend on loans from kindred institutions in Europe and elsewhere. Will he give an assurance that this will be at the forefront of the Government’s thinking? If some of these wonderful exhibitions ceased to be, scholarship would suffer, our museums and galleries would suffer, and we would suffer.

I completely agree with my noble friend and this has been one of the issues that we have discussed with the museums and galleries. In fact, some of the contingency plans I mentioned are about exactly that: the movement of objects. Museums are using a different route, not taking the short cross-channel crossings, and are allowing more time for that.

My Lords, further to the point about the disincentive for people coming to the United Kingdom to work in the industry, whether in galleries, museums or the hospitality sector, £1 spent in a remote community can generate a further £7. However, that requires people to be available to work in hotels, shops and galleries. There is a clear disincentive for them to come. It is six weeks until Easter and the hospitality industry is gearing up for the next season, but it is already saying that it is unable to recruit the young people who make up the backbone of the industry. What will the Government do about that, especially if there is the supposed 3.3% increase in inbound tourism? People will not come back if they do not get good service.

I completely agree, and that is why, as I said in an Answer on tourism last week, the tourism sector deal concentrates on skills, recruitment and avoiding a high turnover in jobs. It is trying to make those jobs more long-term to provide the service that visitors rightly expect. The third-quarter figures were down, particularly for short-haul visitors, but they have rebounded. The Office for National Statistics reported a 4% increase in October.

My Lords, given last week’s finding of the employment tribunal regarding the National Gallery 27, which supported their legal claim to worker status—having been denied it for decades—does the Minister regret that precious resource from a DCMS body was spent in legal action to justify shoddy work practices? Will he ensure that their claim is settled soon and that the National Gallery is held to account for it? What advice are the Government now giving to other bodies using taxpayers’ money to apply the worst practices of the gig economy?

My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Baroness’s representation is completely correct. The case, as I understand it, was about workers and the employment tribunal has made a ruling. We expect all our arm’s-length bodies to obey the law. If there is a dispute over that, that is what employment tribunals are for. They are called arm’s-length bodies because their trustees have to arrange and run their organisations in accordance with the law. The Government should not get involved.

My Lords, I am a former trustee of National Museums Liverpool; I believe the Museum of Liverpool is still the only national museum outside London. I thank my noble friend for reassuring us on the replacement of European Union funding, but can he also reassure us on the issuing of visas for experts, researchers and students, who make so much of our museum opportunities?

My Lords, I am not sure that the Museum of Liverpool is the only national museum outside London; there are the Science Museum Group, the Royal Armouries and the V&A that has just opened in Dundee. I have probably missed one. The point about visas is important, which is why the Government have allowed people to come for three months on a tourist visa. If they want to stay and work in the UK, they will be able to do so for 36 months, subject to security and identity checks.