Making the case for increased investment in museums ahead of the General Election

  • Published 14 November 2019
Will Holmes
Public affairs & policy manager

As political parties prepare for the General Election on 12 December, we believe it's crucial that a commitment is made in their manifestos to tackling some of the major issues facing museums today.

© Andy Smith

© Andy Smith

With polling only a month away, we feel this is a great opportunity for Art Fund to highlight the needs of museums across the UK, and ask all major parties to commit to tackling some of the problems facing the sector in their manifestos.

As well as publishing our asks below, we’ve held discussions with party representatives, and we hope that whatever eventual form the government takes, we’ll be able to make the case for increased investment and some structural changes to allow our museums to develop and flourish long into the future.

Funding

Museums and galleries across the country need urgent funding for repairs and maintenance issues after 10 years of funding cuts have meant these have built up. The buildings they are housed in are often old and difficult to maintain, and do not enable museums to be the environmentally sustainable organisations they wish to be.

The £125 million announced as part of the new Culture Investment Fund is a welcome start, however there must be a positive trend of investment over a sustained period to show a commitment to allowing the country’s regional museums to flourish.

A significant investment through the Cultural Development Fund to regional museums and protection of Local Authority culture budgets would allow museums to remain open, and begin to resolve their maintenance and sustainability issues before these become insurmountable.

A future government must also recognise the significant impact museums have on community cohesion, health and wellbeing, tourism and regeneration, and should therefore ensure museums and other cultural organisations are key partners in bids to funding streams similar to the Future High Streets Fund and Stronger Towns Fund.

Tax Relief

There are many and varied tax reliefs that are available to museums; however, often they are complicated, difficult to access and focused in specific areas. These must be simplified, and provide equity to the tax reliefs that are available to other cultural organisations. A future government should commit to:

  • Removing the sunset clause included with Museums and Galleries Exhibition Tax Relief, which has benefitted museums to the tune of £4 million in the last year
  • Enabling museums to benefit from the lower recapitalisation rate when calculating business rates, to level the playing field with other educational and cultural organisations
  • Ensuring that more museums outside of London can grow their collections through schemes such as Acceptance in Lieu and the Cultural Gifts Scheme, by investing in regional awareness raising and support

Brexit

Our museums and galleries currently lead many international research projects, such as those funded by the EU through Creative Europe and Horizon 2020. It’s vital that they are able to continue to participate in these programmes as leaders. If not able to do so, our museums’ standing as world-leading institutions would be compromised, jeopardising the ability of Britain to build relationships and influence around the world.

Further, museums must be able to access the high-quality talent from across the world and from within the EU that makes them thrive. The proposed blanket salary threshold will negatively impact museums and the wider cultural sector. It should be urgently reviewed, and the threshold lowered for cultural organisations.

Reforming the Export Licence System

The export licence system must be urgently reformed, in order to ensure our museums and galleries are confident of the integrity of the system and able to acquire nationally important works of art.

The recommendations made within the consultation into Strengthening the Process for Retaining National Treasures must be implemented, alongside additional improvements including funding a digital system for the Arts Council to manage the process, improving the transparency and awareness of the system, and lengthening the exclusion period to 25 years.