NAO’s investigation into museum estate 7 Apr 2020

A National Audit Office investigation has laid out the extent of disrepair of the museum estate sponsored by DCMS, which it linked to a 20% real terms reduction in Government funding since 2010,coupled with years of underinvestment in buildings. The report found that although national museums received around £42m into a Maintenance Fund last year, it was time limited and a fraction of what is required to address the backlog: for example ,National Museums Liverpool received £3.5m towards its £24m repair bill, which it struggled to spend optimally because of longer lead in times than the fund allowed for much of the work and the limits of staff capacity. Some maintenance issues are now so serious that they endanger collections and possibly staff and visitors. Examples given in the report include:

  • The Wallace Collection shed masonry from the portico of its building in 2018 following a worsening condition accelerated by previous cosmetic fixes.
  • The Power Hall at the Museum of Science and Industry will be closed until 2021 because of its poor condition.
  • DCMS-sponsored museums attracted 49.7m people in 2018 – 19 and are attractive at front of house, but this often conceals dilapidation behind the scenes, demoralising staff.

The NAO also notes that DCMS only received 7% of the funds that it requested for vital work in the last budget to cover 2020 - 2025. Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Committee of Public Accounts 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.”  Museum representatives are hoping that admission charges do not become the only option to address the situation. Speaking to The Telegraph Science Museum Director and NMDC Chair Sir Ian Blatchford said “to do so would be a foolish distraction when events have revealed how much museums are loved and valued. Once we are through the current crisis, we expect further capital and operational needs to be revisited at the next Spending Review.NAO, Times, Telegraph, Guardian, NMDC (investment in 2019), Museums Journal