NMDC responds to Mendoza Review 14/11/2017

NMDC response to The Mendoza Review and the Strategic review of DCMS-sponsored national museums

NMDC welcomes the Government’s focus on museums and its recognition of the vital contribution they make to our national life and the UK’s international standing, as acknowledged in the Mendoza Review and the Strategic review of DCMS-sponsored national museums.

We welcome the extensive and thoughtful consultation undertaken, and that the Reviews highlight innovative best practice in the sector, the need for greater advocacy for museums across government and the benefits to be gained from more strategic thinking.  We are pleased to note that the Reviews respond to many of the issues highlighted by NMDC and other sector bodies, and that key ideas for ways government can better support museums have been adopted.  We look forward to playing a full and constructive role in delivering these.  The Reviews will make an important contribution to debate within the sector over the next few years.

Whilst the Mendoza Review recognises the serious financial challenges facing some regional museums, it underplays the degree of crisis and sustainability risks faced by local authority-funded museums, the most pressing issue facing the whole sector.  As the Review acknowledges, many museums have found innovative ways to replace lost public funding and mitigate the impact of cuts so far.  We welcome recommendations for DCMS to explore operational freedoms for local authority museums, for ACE to work more closely with the LGA, and suggestions for local authorities to support their museums including developing cultural strategies, brokering partnerships and reducing barriers to generating income.

These are sound proposals, but we remain deeply concerned about the implications of an ongoing lack of public investment in regional museums’ buildings, collections and expertise.  The issue of ‘hollowing out’ of services remains as – in order to keep the doors open – many museums are forced to cut curatorial and collections expertise.  This will have long-term impacts on the development and care of collections and the quality and availability of the public’s access to them.  NMDC would urge stronger messaging from central government on the need for local authorities to adequately invest in museums, whether they are directly managed by the council or are independent trusts.  

We fully support recommendations for DCMS to develop a more strategic approach and to promote the role of museums across government, particularly their international activity, as well as proposals for collecting better evidence to demonstrate the impact and value of museums and to understand and mitigate the impact of the EU Exit on the sector.  NMDC and its members look forward to working with DCMS to fulfil these ambitions and to joining the discussion on the proposed Museums Action Plan.

We are however disappointed that the Review does not include a recommendation on the issue of business rates.  This remains a serious potential risk for museums of all kinds, from nationals to independents, and an area where government intervention could have a very positive impact.  Although the success of York Museums Trust’s recent appeal case is cited in the Review, concerns remain that this result will not be treated as a precedent for other museums.  NMDC will continue to work with sector body partners to seek progress on this issue.

We welcome the recognition in both Reviews of the amount and success of national museums’ partnership working around the country, and the opportunity for NMDC to contribute to the development of a more strategic approach through the proposed partnership framework.  We support the Strategic Review’s focus on improving the effectiveness and efficiency of national museums and their relationship with DCMS, and particularly welcome the recommendation for considering increased capital funding to address critical maintenance and repair backlogs.  NMDC and its members look forward to working with DCMS on implementing these recommendations and contributing to the Shared Solutions project.

NMDC also welcomes recommendations for ACE and HLF to work in a more joined up way and for more strategic investment of lottery funding.  We are keen to see HLF use its considerable knowledge and understanding of the sector to continue its successful track record of support for museums.  Given that the Review covers only English museums, there is also a need for clarity on the implications for HLF priorities across the UK and how, in following ACE’s policy lead in England, HLF will manage its investment for museums in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  We particularly support proposals for lottery funders to give more consideration to back of house projects and to invest in existing estate and projects supporting financial sustainability for museums.