Thursday, 22 July 2010

Public Spending Cuts and Wiltshire Heritage Museum

Amidst all the talk of the impact of public spending cuts on arts and culture, it is useful to talk about the position of Wiltshire Heritage Museum. We are an independent charity, and recieve £35,000 in grant aid from Wiltshire Council and £3,000 from Devizes Town Council. For each £1 in public fundng, we generate £7 ourselves.

We generate income from shop sales, fundraising, membership subscriptions, events and entrance charges. We also have capital invested to generate income, and a seperate endowment fund - and are therefore already running the plural funding model being trumpeted as being the solution for the forthcoming cuts in public spending.

Is this model working? 'YES' - in the sense that we are flourishing and have record visitor numbers, and 'NO' in that we have an annual deficit of £30,000 or more, depending upon the pitiful level of investment income in these days of a 0.5% interrest rate.

We are already part of the 'Big Society' - we could not exist without the fantastic support of our 150+ volunteers, who give us 6,000 hours of their time every year.

A useful comparison is the level of grant that we recieve. Our grant is about £1.30 per visitor, which also supports our education activities and the role that we play in preserving the archaeological collections that result from housing development in the County. This housing development then generates additional Council Tax income in the County. Compare this with the National Museums - my calculations suggest £7 in grant per visitor to the British Museum and £25 per visitor for the V&A - though I may have misunderstood the figures.

Are we unusual? As an independent museum - the answer is an emphatic 'NO'. Many independent museums across the Country work in very similar ways, including our partner museum in Salisbury.

What do independent museums need in these challenging times? Tax breaks to encourage philanthropy? Yes Please! But also a recognition that our impact on the local economy can be significant - we have estimated that we generate upwards of 1,000 bed nights in local B&Bs and hotels as well as spending in local pubs and restaurants. This represents an injection of upwards of £150,000 each year into the local economy. Perhaps not a bad return on investment ...