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Museums and Galleries: Financial Sustainability

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 8 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the current financial sustainability of national museums and galleries.

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

My Lords, the 2017 Strategic Review of DCMS-sponsored Museums found that the national museums and galleries received £340 million in government grant in 2016-17—around 42% of their total income, which also comprised other public funding, donations and self-generated income. Year on year, this investment, maintained in real terms for the next spending review, allows them to welcome millions of visitors, promote Britain to the world, and protect and preserve their unique collections for their global audiences.

I hear what the Minister said, but in a letter to the Times last week headlined “Neglected Museums At Breaking Point”, museum chiefs and the director of the Art Fund drew attention to the serious essential maintenance backlog at our national museums. Do not the fires in Notre-Dame and the Glasgow School of Art, and, indeed, the costs and upheaval we now face on the Parliamentary Estate, point to the dangers and extra costs of putting off vital necessary work? I urge DCMS Ministers to shake the Javid/Johnson money tree for extra resources to protect our national treasures. If the Government wish to maintain free entry, they surely have to pay for it.

The noble Lord is absolutely right that many of our national museums are housed in wonderful heritage buildings, but those buildings require constant upkeep, which is obviously very expensive. To help address this, the Government awarded earlier this year £44 million of one-off funding over the next two years to support essential maintenance for our national museums.

Does the Minister share my view that the experience of visiting galleries and museums has changed quite radically in recent years since we saw the introduction and extension of the iPad and iPhones? Often when we try to see a picture we are surrounded by people taking selfies in front of it. It has changed completely from what it used to be. There is a great opportunity for museums and galleries to raise money from this. It is very simple indeed: nobody takes a camera in unless they pay a fee to do so. Could she try to run an experiment with a museum or a gallery to see how that works and just how much money could be raised?

I had not thought about it in quite the same way as the noble Lord, although when I go to a museum with my children I spend quite a lot of time trying to stop them taking photographs of the pictures. I am not sure about selfies, but more seriously, I am happy to take his suggestion back to my colleague in the department.

My Lords, we reap considerable financial and cultural rewards from what is a modest state investment in our national museums, but would not the Minister admit that museums cannot continue to be shackled by association with fossil fuel companies? It would be a sign of the Government’s seriousness about addressing climate change if they pledged to cover the shortfall in funding when museums, as is inevitable, drop that sponsorship. Will the Government do so?

The noble Lord will be aware that museums act as arm’s-length bodies. Therefore, it is up to the trustees of each museum to scrutinise potential donors and make their own judgments on this.

My Lords, for the very first time, I find myself in absolute disagreement with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I believe it is very important that museums and galleries should receive sponsorship. Where does one draw the line? If a bank was “BP Bank” and offered some sponsorship, would one not accept it? That is utterly ridiculous and totally against the interests of our great museums. I do not mind saying to my noble friend that I would be delighted to receive some sponsorship from BP for the art gallery that I am struggling to save in Lincoln.

I cannot speak for BP or the art gallery in Lincoln, but I reiterate that these are complicated and sensitive decisions, which the trustees of each museum need to deal with.

My Lords, will the Government consider designating other regional museums as national museums, to better and more accurately reflect their nationally and globally significant collections, and, crucially, to try to prevent the gradual decline caused by local authority funding cuts?

The Government do not have any plans to designate any other museums as national museums. Moves have been made to increase funding, particularly to regional museums, through Arts Council England; obviously, we are very keen for them to thrive. We have seen new museums open regionally, and important loans have majorly boosted visitor numbers. We are keen to see that continue.

My Lords, many other large cities have a hotel tax. One only has to go to New York to see that it is quite a large percentage of what one pays. What about having a hotel tax in some of our cities—particularly London, which is awash with tourists all the time—and using at least some of the proceeds as a contribution to our museums and galleries?

Again, the noble Lord makes an interesting suggestion. Our broader view is that we expect museums and galleries to continue to be funded by a mixture of public money, philanthropic money and other forms of fundraising.