in December 2014 Derby City Council Announced it was reducing funding support to Derby Museums Trust by 26%. Councils across England are having their budgets squeezed to the pips, largely a result of the Austerity policies of the Westminster government. Derby City Council is under extreme pressure to provide services in the city, but the Museums Trust felt this level of reduction was too swift, too soon.
The Trust launched a public campaign to influence the City Council to reconsider their decision. Over 6,500 people signed a petition aimed at reducing the cuts. This triggered a full Council debate on 28 January 2015. Here is the text of a speech I gave outlining the aims of the petition and my concerns about the threats to future activity within Derby Museums.
Museums and galleries are not about disposable art, they are about what makes a city and also gives it it’s unique identity
Our museums and art galleries are part of our heritage. We need to promote them and attract people to our city, not restrict their opening hours or close them. This is not the future we want for Derby.
My children have had hours and hours of fun and learning in Derby’s Museums. It has helped to shape them into inquisitive and aspirational children.
Derby Museums Trust is only two years old. It was set up with cross-party support to manage and develop the city’s museums. When it took over, Derby Silk Mill was closed and visitor numbers at all sites were in decline.
Since then the fortunes of Derby Museums have been transformed. The Silk Mill was re-opened in 2013 and ambitious Heritage Lottery bid for its redevelopment has been submitted with support from the City Council. At the Museum and Art Gallery the Joseph Wright Institute was opened in 2014, 97% of the work by Joseph is available to the public. A café was opened for the first time . This years two new galleries will open exploring Derby’s natural world. Visitor numbers across the sites have increased, and by the end of 2014-15 over 100,000 people are predicted to step into Derby Museums.
Should the full measure of the cuts be implemented, the momentum for change will be stalled and many valued services will be reduced.
- The closure of Pickford’s House Museum which has been increasing in popularity since 2012
- A major staff restructure, resulting in redundancies of between to 8-10 FTE’s
- Closure of The Museum and Art Gallery (MAG) on Sundays – the museum will open Tues-Sat
- Closure of The Silk Mill on Fridays and Sundays – The Silk Mill will open only Thursday and Saturday
- A reduction in free family activities
- A reduction in the exhibition programme at The Museum and Art Gallery.
The cuts will reduce the museums’ impact on the social, cultural and economic life of Derby. Flourishing museums, along with theatres, cinemas and dance venues help create a vibrant city. A full range of cultural opportunities attracts both tourists and people to settle in Derby. The current economic contribution to the city of the three Derby Museum sites is £2,207,025 per year, which would reduce significantly following inevitable closures caused by the cuts.
Derby’s museums currently provide rich learning opportunities. They range from under-fives club for young families to coding clubs for schools and writing classes for older people to activities in our workshop for those wishing to develop new practical skills.
We also believe that the cuts threaten a crucial principle regarding access to public space and cultural heritage. Museums are public spaces where people can come and learn to see the world differently. The function of museums as social spaces is significant. Given the way in which urban spaces are increasingly being transferred to private ownership, museums have become an important bulwark against the erosion of the public realm. We are proud that at present Derby people are able to visit our three museums regardless of their means.
Derby Museums Trust has received numerous messages of support from the public following the announcement of the proposed cuts and over 6,000 people have signed a petition urging DCC to reconsider its decision. The city’s cultural heritage has inspired people’s career choices, encouraged them to learn more about their city, supported them to make new friends or given them a great day out.
The depth and speed of these cuts means that we will not be able to provide the current level of activity. The Trust requires more time and stability to establish earned income streams. In 2013 earned income was 2% of turnover. Last year that rose to 6%. These activities will become increasingly important but at current levels will not fill the gap in funding immediately.
The proposed cuts will result in closures and redundancies. It will restrict the public’s access to its cultural heritage. It will jeopardise the continued progress of the trust and risk its hard won reputation. It will stunt the museums trust growth meaning that they are likely to be more of a burden to the council tax payer in the long-term
Derby Museum Trust recognises the difficult financial position of the City Council but I urge the Council to reconsider its decision by partially reducing the level of the cuts and ensuring the Trust remains viable. We would suggest phasing cuts over 2 years. This would still provide the Council with the opportunity to make substantial savings whilst giving the Trust the time to bridge the gap as it develops new sources of private income.
Pickford’s House is amazing, my kids love it, and we go there regularly. It’s one of the UKs Treasures. Derby is going through a renaissance at the moment but if this museum closed it would be a massive step backwards.
Following a debate Labour-led Derby City Council passed the following motion
“Derby Museums Trust was establishedtwo years ago to create new opportunities to develop and sustain your museums for the future. Council believes that Derby Museums change lives
“Council agrees to support the Labour administration in its ongoing campaign for a Fair Deal for Derby from the Tory-led Government as it seeks to find ways to not make cuts to the Museums current funding.”