Supporting museums, galleries and historic buildings open to the public, affected by COVID-19 restrictions - House of Lords, 21 May 2020

For the sector to survive, the emergency financial support packages currently available must not end on a ‘cliff edge’ and longer-term financial support packages suitable for this sector must be considered for the end of 2020 and running into 2021.


Key messages 

  • Councils are the largest investor in cultural activity, spending over £1.1 billion on museums, theatres and libraries. They are directly responsible for around 350 museums in England, fund many more, and provide support to independent museums. Many councillors will also act as trustees. Councils run some important tourist attractions, including castles and historic buildings. 
  • The closure of crucial cultural assets due to the coronavirus pandemic has brought some challenges which will persist as the lockdown measures ease and eventually end. As an example, the culture, tourism and sport sectors make a significant contribution to council budgets through earned income, business rates, fees and charges. 
  • Government support so far has been welcome, particularly the extension of the furlough scheme until October and the £3.2 billion of funding and cash flow measures made available to councils. The Government should continue to demonstrate that it will meet the extra costs and loss of income of local authorities, including from their in-house museums and galleries. As discretionary services, these are the services likely to face severe cost pressure and possible closure if council budgets are under-resourced.
  • Many museums, heritage sites and historic buildings will lose their crucial summer income, meaning they will have little or no income to maintain their collections and buildings over the rest of the year. Heritage sites are expensive to maintain, regardless of whether they are open to the public or not. 
  • The volunteer base that supports many council cultural activities, including museums, has been badly affected. Many volunteers fall into the particularly vulnerable groups and are likely to need shielding for some time. This poses a challenge in keeping community assets open during the recovery phase. We will need to support these volunteers by ensuring there is clear guidance on safeguarding to ensure they return when they are able to. 
  • A recent Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (Alva) survey of 668 people who had recently visited an attraction found that only 16 per cent would visit museums and art galleries “as soon as the opportunity arises”. Further work will be needed to gain public confidence that these buildings will be a safe place to visit as we move into phase three of the recovery plan. 
  • The financial impact of coronavirus will be felt in the museum and heritage sector long after the immediate crisis is over. For the sector to survive, the emergency financial support packages currently available must not end on a ‘cliff edge’ and longer-term financial support packages suitable for this sector must be considered for the end of 2020 and running into 2021. 

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Debate on supporting museums, galleries and historic buildings open to the public, affected by the restrictions in place to address the COVID-19 pandemic,House of Lords, 21 May 2020