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Subject: Financial crisis at the British Museum

Financial crisis at the British Museum

From: Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker <hevandekker>
Date: Friday, June 14, 2002
You may have heard reports of the measures proposed to save UKP6.5
million at the British Museum to deal with a growing financial
deficit.  We would like to bring to your attention some of the
issues which have serious implications for the future of the British

The Government grant in support of running costs of the Museum has
been cut by 30% in real terms over the past decade.  Whilst the
Museum has substantially increased its income generation to UKP13.8
million, it has proved impossible to keep pace with inflation,
particularly in the light of the additional costs resulting from the
departure of the British Library and the opening of the Great Court.
The Museum has also been doubly penalised for its commitment to the
principle of free access to the collections, losing both the income
from admission charges and also the compensation to the charging
museums for resumption of free admission. Consequently the Museum is
facing its third financial crisis in five years.

Management proposals include :

    *   150 job losses, many of which are likely be compulsory
    *   Gallery closures with the possibility of charges for opening
        them in the future.
    *   80% cut in budget for object purchase.
    *   15% job cuts in Collections Departments.
    *   27% job cuts in the Department of Conservation and
        Scientific Research, and other specialist areas.
    *   Warding and security costs to be cut by UKP1.5 million.

Job losses on this scale represent a huge loss of expertise to the
Museum and to the museum community world-wide and, once lost, skills
and expertise cannot be retrieved.  There are serious implications
for the safety and long term preservation of the collections.  The
curtailing of innovative research will inevitably lead to dumbing
down of the displays. The Museum's reputation as a centre of
excellence in conservation and scientific investigation of heritage
will be jeopardised and its ability to share skills, provide
training and continue its high level of outreach activities will be
severely damaged.

World-wide we see investment in major museums, as governments
recognise the enormous tourist potential and social importance of
cultural heritage, yet all the museums and art galleries in Britain
have been starved of support. The present government is willing to
spend millions of tax payers' money on the Dome, an ephemeral
attraction, but appears unwilling to support the survival of our
heritage. The British Museum will not be the only such institution
to find itself facing a financial crisis this year.

We ask for your support in lobbying both the British Museum
management and the Government.  The sums required are small compared
with the value of the asset and its future worth to our country. We
hope you will use your influence to convince Government of the case
and also to persuade the management of the Museum to draw back from
its present drastic and irreversible course of action, by writing to

    Christopher Jones
    Accounting Officer
    The British Museum
    Great Russell Street
    London WC1B 3DG

and Sir John Boyd, Chairman (elect) of the Trustees at the same
postal address; to

    Neil MacGregor
    Director Designate
    c/o The British Museum

and to

    The Right Honourable Tessa Jowell
    Secretary of State for the Department of Culture, Media and
    2-4 Cockspur Street, London, SW1Y 5DH
    tessa.jowell [at] culture__gsi__gov__uk

To make this task easier we attach a pro-forma letter for you to

Thank you for any support you may be able to offer.


    It is with great concern that I have heard of the very serious
    financial crisis facing The British Museum and the drastic cuts
    being proposed to save UKP6.5 million from the operational
    budget. The loss on this scale of expertise, skills and
    accumulated knowledge of the collections will be felt not just
    by the Museum but also by its visitors and by the wider museum

    The exceptional collections of the British Museum are kept in
    trust for the people of this country and of others, worldwide,
    who come to the Museum in their millions. To cut back so
    severely on areas of the Museum's activities that include
    security, conservation and scientific research, curatorial and
    education, is foolhardy and short-sighted when world-wide we see
    investment in major museums by governments which recognise the
    enormous tourist potential and social importance of cultural

    I understand that many of the Museum's difficulties stem from a
    reduction in real terms of the government's support to the
    running of the Museum, from the Museum's adherence to the
    principle of free access to its collections and from an
    inevitable increase in costs associated with the opening of the
    Great Court following the departure of the British Library
    areas. I do urge you to review the inevitable impact of cuts on
    the scale proposed and to reconsider the level of funding
    provided to the Museum.

(This letter fully represents the views of staff from all areas of
The British Museum and is issued on their behalf by Prospect and
with the full support of the PCS trades union.)

Hadrian Ellory-van Dekker
Prospect (British Museum Branch)

                  Conservation DistList Instance 16:1
                   Distributed: Friday, June 14, 2002
                        Message Id: cdl-16-1-005
Received on Friday, 14 June, 2002

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