The five Lancashire County Council museums threatened with closure will now stay open until the end of September, to allow more time for discussions to continue with organisations keen to take them over, and for other interested parties to come forward.
Lancaster's Judges' Lodgings is one of the five museums earmarked for closure as the result of the swingeing cuts to council funding by central government, which have now gone well beyond simple economic prudence and sensible cost savings and into the realms of a brutal right wing attack on public services at the expense of anything not perceived to make a 'profit' (such as museums, schools, the disabled, the poor and the arts).
County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, Cabinet Member for Environment, Planning and Cultural Services, said: "As has been widely reported, the county council's dire financial situation means that we can no longer afford to run these museums.
"We took the decision to cease funding these five museums with very heavy hearts. We recognise their immense cultural and historical value but when it is unclear how we will pay for essential services for the vulnerable in just two years' time, it is one of many difficult decisions we have had to make.
"I am pleased to say that we are in active discussions with bodies interested in taking over all five museums, and we will keep the museums open until the end of September to give those discussions the best possible chance of success. It may also present an opportunity for other interested parties to come forward."
The five museums facing closure because of the Tories are:
• The Museum of Lancashire
• Fleetwood Museum
• Helmshore Mills
• Queen Street Mill
• The Judges' Lodgings, Lancaster
Tax changes in this week's Budget may help all museums survive in future. Chancellor George Osborne has extended the museum VAT refund eligibility from national and university museums to include free museums across the country.
Museums Heritage Advisor reports this will allow all free museums and galleries to claim back VAT incurred on most goods and services purchased in order to continue to offer free admission. The budget will also see tax relief for temporary and touring exhibition costs from April 2017 with a consultation taking place in the summer.
Friends of the Judges' Lodgings Group
One community-based group looking to save Lancaster's threatened museum is
the Friends of the Judges' Lodgings.
The group has recently become focussed on thinking strategically about how it might assist in saving the Judges' Lodgings from closure and are interested in talking to anyone who might like to get involved.
The Friends aim to work with the Judges' Lodgings museum to maintain and develop the small garden at the back of the Judges' Lodgings Museum into a period garden to provide a landscape, cultural and educational resource that will complement the Judges' Lodging museums and add to the cultural vibrancy of Lancaster. The garden is currently not open to the public.
New Inquiry Launched into Culture Funding
Although things are looking grim for these five museums, there is a glimmer of hope that the recently-announced Culture, Media and Sport Committee inquiry into funding for culture in England’s regions and sub-regions might highlight the impact funding cuts are having on museums and the arts around the country.
The Countries of Culture inquiry will focus on the impact on culture of the local authority settlement; new funding models for culture and use of lottery funding; cultural partnerships; skills, management and infrastructure; accessibility and engagement; and the value and impact of culture in the regions.
The select committee’s last inquiry in 2014, into the work of Arts Council England, found that there is an imbalance in arts funding in favour of London at the expense of taxpayers and lottery players in other parts of the country.
This year’s inquiry aims to build on that report and look beyond the work of the arts council.
“The UK has huge cultural and artistic riches in its regions and nations, including galleries, museums, music, theatre and festivals,” says Jesse Norman, the chair of the select committee. “This inquiry will look at how best to preserve and enhance those resources, especially in the face of continuing budget pressures; at the impact of festivals and events in cultural regeneration; at enhanced linkages between national and regional institutions; and at new ways in which culture and the arts can be used to develop and revitalise communities.”
The Museums Association’s (MA) Cuts Survey 2015 found that: “Local authority museums are particularly at risk and have experienced a greater decrease in total income from 2013-14 to 2014-15 than other types of museum. And the funding position of local authority museums is likely to worsen following the substantial cuts to the local government grant announced in the 2015 spending review.”
The MA will be giving evidence to the inquiry, and is calling for regional museums to make submissions to make sure the sector’s voice is heard.
“The MA welcomes the select committee inquiry into regional culture funding. Regional museums face a looming crisis with many under threat of closure,” says Sharon Heal, the MA’s director.
“If we are to prevent whole areas of the country becoming cultural cold spots there needs to be an urgent debate about how national and local government can work in partnership to ensure the continued provision of these vital services for current and future generations.
“The MA will be giving evidence to the inquiry and welcomes submissions from regional museums in England to ensure that our collective voice is heard.”
The deadline for submissions is 22nd April 2016.
Opening times may be subject to change at short notice. Visitors are advised to check before their visit at www.lancashire.gov.uk/museums
• Join the Friends of the Judges' Lodgings Group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/832655583420666/