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Museum and Art Gallery facing uncertain future as funding cuts start to bite

Museum and Art Gallery facing uncertain future as funding cuts start to bite

🕔16.Mar 2015

The possibility of imposing entry charges at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has been ruled out for the time being, but the building’s future rests on a growing army of volunteers and the generosity of individual donors, writes Paul Dale.

With a £1.2 million cut in funding this year and a further reduction of at least £250,000 next year, the Birmingham Museums Trust has already shed 52 jobs with another 10 posts at risk and a major organisational restructure underway.

BMT has run BMAG as well as heritage sites Aston Hall, Blakesley Hall, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House and Weoley Castle, Museums Collection Centre and Thinktank since 2012, pushing up visitor numbers and completing refurbishment of the museum and art gallery’s Edwardian Tea Rooms.

One visible and immediate impact of the cuts will see school visits to the heritage sites reduced by half next year, with an estimated 15,000 children missing out as the Trust fights to put its accounts in order.

The financial difficulties are set out in a council cabinet report which warns that the Trust’s survival depends on developing a sustainable business plan for 2016 onwards as well as addressing “performance and governance issues”.

Last year culture cabinet member Penny Holbrook refused to rule out charging visitors to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, which houses part of the Staffordshire Hoard of Viking treasures.

The council will cut the grant it gives to BMT by £600,000 in 2015-16 and by a further £250,000 the following year. In addition, the Trust has suffered the loss of a £620,000 grant from Arts Council England.

In January this year the council approved a one-off grant to BMT of up to £660,000 to support the costs associated with its organisational restructure, and to reduce its forecast year-end accumulated deficit. Arts Council England has also earmarked £100,000 for BMT to develop ways of improving income streams and developing business resilience.

The Trust’s 2015-16 budget forecast depends on Millennium Point Trust providing a major one-off grant in addition to its regular revenue grant for BMT. The cabinet report notes that this represents a “key uncertainty” in the business plan and that a decision about the grant is yet to be made by Millennium Point.

The report continues: “The level of reduction arising from the council’s budget exercise, combined with reduction in funding from Arts Council England requires BMT to undertake significant organisational change, including staffing restructure, development of plans for new income streams and changes to management of the council’s heritage sites while meeting Heritage Lottery Funding obligations.

Both of the Trust’s main public funders, Arts Council England (ACE) and Birmingham city council have reduced funding from 2015-16, creating a savings target for the year of £1.2 million. This presents further challenges to the Trust and requires a period of further organisational change and a reduction in activity in order to deliver a balanced budget.

An organisational redesign for the main BMAG site will be completed by end of March 2015. To date the restructure has confirmed reduction by 27 posts. This follows a restructure in 2013, where 25 individuals were made redundant.

A restructure of the heritage sites/ learning team is proposed, with 10 posts potentially at risk. This will result in a total potential reduction of 16 per cent in the BMT workforce. Additionally there will be a reduction in recruitment to seasonal jobs at heritage sites.”

In an effort to cut costs BMT plans to increase volunteering hours by 20 per cent in 2015-16. In 2014, 590 volunteers contributed over 3,000 days. BMT has said it will not replace paid positions with volunteers.

The Trust will cater for half the number of schools at the Heritage Sites, an estimated 15,000 fewer school children each year. Collections, curatorial, exhibition and technical teams, will be reduced, resulting in fewer display changes, loans of the collection and less capacity to respond to public enquiries.

Special events, such as the forthcoming Andy Warhol/William Morris exhibition, will be reduced to two exhibitions a year.

Increased charges at the city’s heritage sites to £6 for adults and imposing charges for volunteer led tours have been approved as well as a 50p increase in the Thinktank science museum’s entry charges and an additional £1 charge for the Planetarium.

The community gallery at the Museum and Art Gallery will operate a reduced programme. BMAG will remain free for visitors and BMT aims to double the income from donation boxes to £100,000.

The cabinet agreed to sign a one-year deal with BMT to continue its management of the heritage sites at a cost of £3.433 million. The Trust is understood to be frustrated at the short term nature of the council’s financial support, pointing out that it will be almost impossible to unlock grants from other sources unless the council commits itself to a lengthy period of funding.

The Library of Birmingham was the most visited free attraction outside London according to figures released today by the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions. In tenth place, the Library was visited by 2,414,860 people, proving to be an attraction in its own right. The British Museum remained the most popular visitor attraction overall for the eighth year running with 6,695,213 visitors.

Val Birchall, Assistant Director, Culture & Visitor Economy, Birmingham City Council said:

Our visitor figures demonstrate how much the public values and enjoys the Library of Birmingham, both as a resource for learning, literacy and skills development and as a destination for leisure and culture. Like so many other libraries and publicly funded cultural organisations across the whole country, we are facing challenging times ahead, however the Library’s popularity gives us a good base of support for the future.

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