Museums and Galleries in Britain: Economic, social and creative impacts

13 December 2006


A new report, Museums and Galleries in Britain: Economic, Social and Creative Impacts, by Tony Travers of the London School of Economics, finds that "the UK's museums and galleries could, with greater capacity to expand and improve, allow this country to be a world leader in creativity and scholarship."

The report, jointly commissioned by the National Museum Directors' Conference (NMDC) and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), analyses a number of Britain's leading museums and galleries in terms of visitor numbers, economic impacts, civic functions, and contributions to the country's creativity and educational performance.

The report's positive findings include:

  • Britain's museums and galleries are among the very best in the world. There is no other country in the world with such a powerful museum and gallery grouping within such a relatively small space.
  • The economic benefits of the UK's major museums and galleries are estimated to be £1.5 billion per annum taking into account turnover and visitor expenditure. Wider economic impacts would be still greater.
  • The annual turnover of Britain's major museums and galleries exceeds £900 million. Broadly £1 in every £1,000 in the UK economy can be directly related to the museum and gallery sector. The major museums and galleries spend over £650 million a year.
  • New museums and galleries have contributed to the economic and social regeneration of industrial cities.
  • There are 3,000 volunteers and over 140,000 friends linked to museums in the study, a major contribution to civic engagement.
  • There are over 42 million visits each year to major museums and galleries. It is more than attendance at the Premiership League plus the whole of the rest of league football for 2004-05. It is 50% more than the number of people who annually visit the West End and Broadway theatres combined.
  • Seven of the top ten visitor attractions in the UK are museums. Museums and galleries are a significant factor in attracting visitors to the UK but they need to develop if they are to continue to compete against institutions that are developing in other countries.
  • The kinds of people visiting museums are changing. Regional museum visits by people from lower socio-economic groups and by black and minority ethnic groups increased by 15.2% and 60% respectively in 2002-04.
  • In 2005-06 there were over 100 million website visits for the major museums and galleries covered by the report.
  • At least 180,000 exhibits were loaned by museums and galleries to other institutions within the UK. National and regional museums are increasingly working together in strong partnerships, which go beyond the traditional approach of loans, including innovative exhibitions, learning and out-reach programmes and workforce development.
  • Museums and galleries have expanded their activities as partners with universities, as well as extending their access to schools and increasing the numbers of visits by young people.
  • More than 1,400 academic or similar publications were recorded during 2004-05.
  • Museums and galleries are therefore fulfilling their original functions, while also acting as institutions of learning, mass tourist attractions and civic partners.
  • Self-generated income to museums and galleries ranges as high as £200 million a year, including over £200 million in donations and sponsorship, over £100 million in trading income and £20 million in ticket sales.
  • Grants, either from DCMS or local authorities constitute slightly over half of museum and gallery income.

The report also warns that:

  • Up to a third of museums' displays and facilities are in need of significant renovation.
  • The amount spent on museum acquisitions is very small - in some years less than £20 million.
  • Income has not been rising as fast as staff and other inflationary costs in the economy.
  • Additional income will be required to enable museums to continue to deliver and not to fall back compared with heavily funded international competitors.
  • Capital expenditure has dropped sharply since 2001-02 as a percentage of total expenditure. National museums show a falling total of capital expenditure and an increased reliance on government support. Earlier sources such as lottery have declined and consequently capital grant-in-aid has increased as a share of the total.
  • The availability of resources for investment in museums and galleries appears to be unrelated to the needs of the sector. There has been little available for improvement of existing assets.

The report concludes that:

"Britain's museums and galleries underpin the creativity upon which future high value added economic activity is likely to be based. The storehouses represented by these institutions will encourage people in this country to use their creativity and talent to develop new services, products and even manufactured goods.

The agglomeration of institutions, talent and audiences in Britain has parallels in only a few other countries. However, there is a risk the institutions will be taken for granted and not seen as the potential opportunity they represent...

The potential is virtually limitless. The only question is whether, collectively, there is a national desire to deliver, maintain and expand this particularly creative sector."

Mark Jones, Chairman of NMDC and Director of the V&A said: "Museums and galleries are one of this government's great successes on all counts from visitor numbers to regeneration, social cohesion, tourism and the creative economy. I hope that this success will no be rewarded with cuts to core funding. As the LSE report shows, we can't continue to deliver to these exceptional standards and to maintain the UK's position as world leaders in the museums and galleries sector without adequate funding."

Mark Wood, Chair of the MLA Board, said: "The MLA welcomes this research as a robust and academic assessment of the economic and social value of museums and galleries in Britain. Although it is clear that there is much to be proud of, particularly the impact of the Renaissance programme and other initiatives designed to develop wider audiences, the report does include some pertinent insights into the continuing need for long term investment in museums and galleries to ensure that the high quality services offered to all persist."

This report builds on research conducted by Tony Travers, LSE and Stephen Glaister, Imperial College, published in 2004: Valuing Museums: Impact and Innovation Among National Museums.

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The National Museum Directors' Conference represents the leaders of the UKs national collections, including the national museums and galleries in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, The National Archives, the British Library and the National Library of Scotland. It was founded in 1929, in anticipation of a Royal Commission recommendation that the national collections should coordinate their work and discuss matters of mutual concern. Today the NMDC provides its membership with a valuable forum for discussion and debate and an opportunity to share information and work collaboratively. More information about NMDC can be found on our website at: