UK National Audit Office reviews museums
Eleanor Mills, Museum collections at risk through lack of maintenance funding, Museums Association, 1 April 2020
An investigation into maintenance of the museum estate by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that grant funding for museums from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) fell by 20% in real terms between 2010-11 and 2018-19.
Museums have typically found it difficult to secure non-DCMS funding for estate maintenance. While DCMS has secured additional funding for museums’ critical maintenance needs, this has not been enough to cover the amounts museums have requested for repairs to their estates.
The investigation also reported that DCMS does not collect enough information to calculate the funding required to address the long-term maintenance backlog for the museums and its sponsors.
The Wallace Collection, London, where a piece of masonry fell from the portico in 2018 due to deterioration of the supporting beams, and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, where the Power Hall is closed for urgent repairs, are two examples included in the report.
The report says, “Museums have had to make short-term repairs or delay essential maintenance work,” and that working conditions across each site have a direct impact on staff morale.
The research was conducted across 15 museums and galleries sponsored by DCMS: British Museum; Geffrye Museum; Horniman Museum; Imperial War Museum; National Gallery; Natural History Museum; National Museums Liverpool; National Portrait Gallery; Royal Armouries; Royal Museums Greenwich; Science Museum Group; Sir John Soane’s Museum; Tate Gallery; Victoria and Albert Museum; Wallace Collection.
Laura Pye, the director of National Museums Liverpool said: “National Museums Liverpool was pleased to assist with the NAO as part of this essential investigation. DCMS has been taking a keen interest in the issues that we have in maintaining our buildings, particularly those that are listed, and the evidence gathered by the NAO will be useful in furthering the conversation.”
Meg Hillier MP, the chair of the public accounts committee, said: “Failure to spend enough on repairs to the nation’s leading museums has put priceless art and the safety of staff and visitors at risk. The museums are telling DCMS that the backlog is getting worse. But the department does not yet know the full extent of the problem. The government has only offered sticking-plasters – small amounts of money, too late in the day to do anything more than a short-term fix.”
A DCMS spokesperson said: “We are committed to protecting and preserving the extraordinary buildings that hold the UK’s national collection. Estates management has been, and will remain, our priority and we are working closely with our sponsored museums to understand their unique maintenance needs.”