Museums will ‘wither and die’ without extra funds, warn MPs

MP Hugh Bayley at a rally in support of the National Railway Museum
MP Hugh Bayley at a rally in support of the National Railway Museum
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The great museums of the North will “wither and die” if the Government does not commit new capital funds toward their upkeep, Yorkshire MPs have warned as Labour called for a new approach to regional arts and culture.

York Central MP Hugh Bayley said much-loved establishments such as the National Railway Museum are being “hollowed out” by years of cuts, and require significant investment if their collections are to be properly maintained and kept up to date for future generations.

Ministers this week moved to assure worried MPs from across the north of England that no major regional museum will have to close as a result of next week’s post-2015 spending review.

A deal struck by Culture Secretary Maria Miller and the Treasury will ensure museum cuts are capped at five per cent in 2015-16 – half the level at which the Science Museum Group said it would be forced to close one of its Northern museums due to a spiralling budget deficit.

The National Media Museum in Bradford, the National Railway Museum in York and the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester were all under threat.

Speaking in a Commons debate on the future of Britain’s arts and cultural heritage, Mr Bayley joined other Yorkshire MPs in welcoming assurances that no museum will have to close – but warned that capital investment is still urgently needed.

“The artefacts in our national museums in Bradford, Manchester, South Kensington, York and Shildon are some of the most important and valuable cultural assets in the world,” he said.

“They are like fantastic flowers in a garden. If we do not keep feeding their roots, those flowers will wither and die.

“There is a danger that, by taking millions and millions out of those museums each year, they will no longer have the resources to keep their collections up to date, conserved and available to the public, now and for future generations.”

Mr Bayley described it as “odd” that a Conservative Government was doing “significantly less to conserve our national heritage” than was being done before.

“Nothing has been said yet about the capital funding (for the museum group) of between £2m and £2.5m,” the Labour MP said.

“If that is not provided, the deficit will increase further, because revenue money would have to be used to repair the roof of the museum and for other capital works.

“We face the real danger of our museums being hollowed out.”

On Wednesday night Culture Minister Ed Vaizey made clear he would not pre-empt the announcement on capital funding for museums, which will be included in the spending review next week.

But he agreed a “five-year plan” is needed to turn around the fortunes of the National Media Museum, which has seen visitor numbers fall from nearly one million to around 500,000 in recent years.

Gerry Sutcliffe, the MP for Bradford South, insisted capital funding would be required to bring the attraction up to date.

“It is not just about saving the Northern museums,” he said. “It is about putting investment in and making sure that they are places where people want to go.

“Our museum has been run down over the past few years.”

Mr Sutcliffe was one of several Yorkshire MPs, including Bradford West’s George Galloway, to highlight the disparity between funding for museums in London and elsewhere in the country.

Barnsley MP Dan Jarvis, Labour’s Shadow Tourism Minister, said the Government needs a “regional strategy to support the arts and the creative industries in all regions – not just in London”.

But Ms Miller insisted many arts institutions in the capital work hard to support cultural events and bodies in the regions.

“It is vital that we ensure that the money available goes to the places that need it most,” she said. “The Arts Council, as an arm’s length body, makes those decisions independently of the Government.

“The national institutions that are located in our capital city do much to support regional organisations, both by supplying them with talented people and by training people from the regions.”