Austerity measured: spending on UK museum services down by nearly a third since 2010

Research from the Museums Association shows the fall in local authority funding to museums in England, Scotland, and Wales in the last decade.

Across England, Scotland and Wales, the total amount of local authority funding going to museums has decreased in real terms by 34%, 23% and 31% respectively since 2010.

That is the conclusion of a report published and commissioned by the Museums Association and conducted by independent researchers with the support of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation.

The figures cover all spending by local authorities on museums, including those directly operated by local authorities, as well as independent trusts which receive financial support from local authorities.

The spending data forms part of the report, ‘Local Authority Investment in Museums after a Decade of Austerity’, which sets out new figures on the impact that austerity has had on the museums sector in the UK over the last decade.

It shows that across the UK, local authority spending on museums and galleries declined between 2009/10 and 2019/20 in real terms from £426m to £311m.

A graph from the ‘Local Authority Investment in Museums after a Decade of Austerity’ report © Museums Association

Conclusions and figures from the report are based on a review of data from governments across the UK and also include interviews with museum professionals.

The report argues that UK government policy decisions over the past decade have meant local government has become “the most squeezed area of all state activity under the austerity programme”, experiencing funding cuts of 49.1% in real terms between 2010/11 and 2017/18 in England.

Changes to the funding allocation system, it argues, mean levels of funding are decreasingly linked to each local authority’s spending needs and the amount a council has available to spend is increasingly dependent on local circumstances.

This, it said, “leaves councils in more deprived areas more exposed to risk as they are less able to raise funds locally, whilst facing greater demand for services”.

In response to the results of the research in the report, the Museums Association is now calling on UK governments to directly invest in local museums and develop new ways to support revenue for funding.

It is also calling for The Museums and Galleries Exhibitions Tax Relief to be made permanent, for business rates reform, and for local authorities to support opportunities to work with the likes of public sector bodies, charities and businesses.

Sharon Heal, director of the Museums Association, said: “This independent research lays bare the debilitating reduction in funding that local museums have suffered over the past 10 years. These museums provide a vital community service, and in some towns and cities they are amongst the few civic spaces that are open and welcoming to all.”