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ACE research public investment in museums

Geraldine Kendall Adams, Councils spend 23% less per head on museums than they did 15 years ago, Museums Association, 9 February 2024

Arts council report lays bare extent of local authority funding crisis in England.

Westbury Manor Museum is one of five venues at risk of closure following cuts by Hampshire County Council Courtesy of Hampshire Cultural Trust © Joe Low.

Local authorities in England invested 23% less per capita in museums and galleries in 2022-23 than they did in 2009-10, a new report from Arts Council England (ACE) has found.

This amounts to a real-terms decrease of 42.1% when inflation is taken into account, according to the research, which was commissioned by the arts council in order to better understand the levels of public investment in museums.

Carried out by DC Research and Wavehill, the report focuses on revenue rather than capital spend and identifies 413 local authority-reliant Accredited museums in England and 226 related governing bodies for those museums. The 413 local-authority-reliant museums account for 31% of all Accredited museums in England.

The research found that total council expenditure per person on museums and galleries fell from £5.49 in 2009-10 to £4.22 in 2022-23.

The overall investment figure also dropped significantly over that period; councils’ total expenditure on museums and galleries decreased by 16% in cash terms and 36.7% in real terms, from £286.45m in 2009-10 to £241.01m in 2022-23.

The research found that museums and galleries have been hit disproportionately in comparison to overall local authority services; over the same period, councils’ total service expenditure per capita increased by 3% in cash terms, and decreased by 22.7% in real terms.

Spending on museums and galleries now accounts for a smaller proportion of council budgets, the research found; taken as a percentage of total service expenditure, councils’ total expenditure on museums and galleries decreased from 0.21% in 2009-10 to 0.16% in 2022-23.

The report says that cuts have fallen more heavily on more disadvantaged local authorities.

Almost three quarters of local authorities are investing less than £5 per capita in museums and galleries, with the average spend per head standing at £3.11, according to the report.

A significant proportion of local authorities (31%) reported zero per capita net expenditure (ie expenditure once total income has been taken into account) on museums and galleries in 2022-23, while 13% spent less than £1 per capita. A further 31% spent between £1 and £5 per capita, and 15.8% reported spending more than £5 per head.

Regionally, Yorkshire and the Humber was found to have the highest spend per capita on museums and galleries at £5.46, followed by the South West (£3.81), the North East (£3.47) and the North West (£3.43). The East also reports above average spend per capita at £3.34, while all other regions report below-average spend per capita, with the West Midlands reporting the lowest at £1.68.

The report also analyses other sources of public investment in museums, finding that the National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded £407.2m to museums between 2015-16 and 2022-23 – an average of almost £51m per year.

Overall, ACE has invested more than £521.1m across its investment strands and programmes for museums between 2015-16 and 2022-23 – an average of £65.1m per year.

The data shows that public investment in national museums has fared better in recent years; grant-in-aid funding from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to its sponsored museums and galleries increased from £300.3m in 2015-16 to £489.6m in 2022-23.

The report concludes with an analysis of issues to consider and potential actions in response to the local authority funding crisis.

Potential actions

  • Consider ‘growth funding’ for local authority-reliant museums.
  • Review approaches to attract investment from private sources.
  • Explore options for services to merge functions or merge completely.
  • Develop a new museum workforce action plan focusing on attracting and retaining talent.
  • Support the wellbeing of museum service heads and the wider workforce.
  • Increase the use of joint appointments or shared regional resources.
  • Review local authority management and maintenance arrangements.
  • Consider bespoke training for local authority-reliant museums around carbon literacy.
  • A cross-government committee to consider the issues facing LA-reliant museums.
  • Communicate clearly to local authorities that are funding LA-reliant museums their obligations and liabilities.










The arts council says it will use the data to make the case for sustained investment in civic museums. Liz Johnson, director of museums and collections development at the arts council, said: “Museums have an important role in their communities and supporting a dynamic museums sector is at the heart of our strategy. Over the next 10 years, our ambition is to go on expanding public access to collections, so they continue to enrich, delight and inspire as many people as possible.

“We recognise that local authorities face tough decisions due to pressures on their finances. The arts council is not able to replace local authority funding, but it is our responsibility as the national museums development agency to advocate for their value in public life and to work with central and local government to continue to make the case for sustained investment in museums.

“The sector is keen to have the tools to address the challenges they face and we are here to support them, and to help them work together, so that we can create inspiring museums and collections that are fit for the future.”

The Museums Association is calling for a strategic approach from government to address the local authority funding crisis.

MA director Sharon Heal said: “We welcome this in-depth research which shows the very real extent of the crisis in civic museums. It follows on from our research into local authority funding for museums and we have been arguing for some time that we need a strategic funding approach from government and other funders to address the issues raised.

“We are deeply concerned about the future of local museums – decades of cuts is undermining their ability to deliver the amazing and life-changing opportunities for their communities that we know they are capable of.

“We are also extremely concerned about the wellbeing of museum leaders and the whole workforce – all the evidence points to the fact that museum workers are woefully underpaid and increasingly overworked and this is leading to a wellbeing crisis in the sector and we need urgent action now.”

Cuts monitor

Museums Journal is tracking council spending cuts to museums and galleries across the UK.

Email our news editor Geraldine Kendall Adams at [email protected] to let us know if your organisation is affected by local authority cuts.

See also: Research to understand the levels of public investment in museums