Remember how The Big Society was going to fill gaps in Heritage funding left by the retreat of the State through volunteers and philanthropy? It doesn’t seem to be working that way in the museums sector.

The Museums Association has just published a survey of the impact of funding cuts which provides grim reading….

  • 49% of responding museums experienced a cut to their overall income
  • 23% of respondents saw their overall income decrease by more than 10%
  • 37% of respondents cut staff
  • 21% of respondents cut staff numbers by over 10%
  • 47% of responding museums increased the numbers of volunteers and interns
  • 23% of respondents reduced the number of temporary exhibitions
  • School visits decreased at 31% of respondents
  • 28% of respondents reduced the free events on offer

On volunteers, sure enough the numbers of volunteers and interns increased but Mark Taylor, director of the Museums Association, highlighted the crucial reality that “they can never replace skilled, experienced staff”.

On philanthropy, contrary to government plans for an increase, only 28% of museums that took part saw a rise in income from individual giving – with 17% actually experiencing a fall. “The potential for increased philanthropy appears limited in many parts of the UK and for many museum subject areas,” said Mr Taylor. “Philanthropic efforts will never substitute for the loss of public funding.”

Thus it seems the word from the sharp end, devoid of spin, is that in the museum sector the whole basis on which The Big Society was floated has simply failed to come about. Undismayed, the DCMS commented “blah de blah de blah”….