DCMS publishes post-Mendoza museum Action Plan to bolster joint strategies

Main Image: Youngsters take part in an audio guide of the House of Commons. The government has recently published a museum Action Plan to improve its strategic role and the wellbeing of museums

The Action Plan includes further actions the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) will make to improve its strategic role for museums following on from The Mendoza Review: an independent review of museums in England, which was published in November 2017

The Action Plan will also be updated when major new funds are announced such as ACE Development funds in late 2019

The Mendoza Review positioned itself as the first wide-ranging review of the sector in over ten years and ‘sought to answer the question how can government create an environment in which museums can flourish?’

The Review identified nine priorities for museums, which have been included with a table of actions in pages 10-16 of the Action Plan, and set out 27 recommendations for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and its Arm’s-Length Bodies (ALBs), Arts Council England (ACE), the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and Historic England (HE) to address.

Underpinning all of the recommendations, the Action Plan says, was the Review’s central idea that to maximise the impact of public funding for museums, DCMS and its bodies need to work together better and have greater joint strategic focus.

Here are some of the recommendations and actions being taken

DCMS and other government departments
The Mendoza Review called for DCMS to strengthen its strategic role in the sector. DCMS will do more to communicate across government how museums contribute to a range of goals, and to communicate to the museums sector how it can access resources and capacity for this work.

Action: DCMS will hold an annual event for other government departments and ALBs to discuss museums spending and strategic goals, kicking off by the end of 2018.

DCMS and its ALBs
Arts Council England, Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic England.

As principal funders of the museums sector, ACE and HLF have developed an agreement on closer working, following the Review and their Tailored Reviews. They signed a new Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in September 2018. ACE is also developing a MoU with HE, which will include a focus on archaeological archives, following the development of an action plan for this material which was endorsed by the Minister in spring 2018.

DCMS sponsors and funds 15 museums and galleries and the British Library, which receive grant-in-aid as well as having their own income streams such as commercial activity and fundraising. To improve their reach and the impact of this public funding across the country the Mendoza Review recommended a Partnership Framework helping the national museums be more strategic in their work with the wider sector. The Partnership Framework is published alongside this Action Plan, in conjunction with the National Museum Directors’ Council. It commits the national museums to an annual report, to be produced by DCMS, showing the partnership activity carried out.

Action: DCMS will publish the first annual partnerships report in spring 2019.

The future of museums spending
The current spending period runs to 2020 and the Government has announced there will be a Spending Review in 2019. The Spending Review will set future budgets, including for museums and local authorities. DCMS has started early work with its ALBs to prepare for the next Spending Review.

Demonstrating the most effective possible use of the existing funding, as outlined in the Menoza Review, is part of this.

Action: To support the Spending Review, DCMS will work with ACE and other ALBs, drawing in sector bodies and expertise as appropriate, to collect and gather a robust evidence base regarding how public funding for museums supports their activity, outcomes, and impact.

A national picture of funding and activity
The Mendoza Review therefore recommended that a ‘national picture of funding and activity’ be developed. In response to this, DCMS has been exploring how to create an accurate way of looking at museums’ public funding, bringing together disparate datasets to help understand past funding decisions and guide new ones.

Action: DCMS will explore developing a publicly-available tool bringing together a range of data on government museums funding, drawing on existing mapping, data aggregators and projects as appropriate to reduce duplication.

‘Areas and communities of demonstrable need’
The Mendoza Review recommended that significant public funding for the creation of new museums, in particular, should be restricted to ‘areas and communities of demonstrable need’.

The Action Plan said that while ACE and HLF are independent decision-makers they cannot be bound by strict definition but gave some factors that might be considered when deciding whether a new museum is ‘demonstrably needed’.

When dealing with requests for public funding for new museums, DCMS, ACE and HLF will consider and discuss:

  • ACE and HLF existing cold spots/priority areas, which are based on varied definitions around infrastructure and previous funding (HLF) and cultural engagement and arts and culture provision as a whole (ACE), and which take into account areas of deprivation;
  • The area or community being served by the proposal – this might be physical or geographical, or might be a demographic or other community;
  • The existing museums and wider cultural infrastructure, activity, public funding, and participation;
  • The role of the new museum in placemaking i.e. the role it can play in strategic plans for the local area and in the life of the community, and how it will work with arts and culture, economic, health and other institutions;
  • What need the proposal serves e.g. for buildings or spaces, collections, representation, or engagement.

Action: DCMS will review the Action Plan – the goals, actions, and measurements – annually with ALBs, drawing on forthcoming work by Arts Council to collate and share data about the health of the museums sector, wider sector views on progress, and relevant projects and ideas from support organisations.

Museums Action Plan blog by Neil Mendoza

In November last year, the government published my review of England’s museums, the first comprehensive look at the sector since 2001.

In the last year we have seen more great examples of museums flourishing in different ways: Tate St Ives winning Art Fund Museum of the Year; museum openings such as Bristol’s Being Brunel; government funding for a new museum in Blackpool; the starring role for Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and the Science Museum’s Rocket in the Great Exhibition of the North. My Review was about how government helps create an environment in which all museums can flourish.

The Action Plan

Today [4 October] marks the next major step, the publication of the Action Plan: how government supports museums in England.

The Action Plan sets out how the existing public funding supports action on the nine priorities for museums identified in the Review, progressing the central idea that government organisations – the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Arts Council England (ACE), Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and Historic England (HE) – should be more joined-up and strategic in how they work together.

DCMS has also been working with the National Museum Directors’ Council (NMDC) on the Partnership Framework, which is published today alongside the Action Plan. NMDC represents the leaders of the UK’s national collections and major regional museums. This new framework sets out how those major museums will assist all museums across the country. This new framework will ensure that information is shared across the sector collectively in future to enable good, wide and beneficial strategic action.

The recommendations

The review made 27 recommendations. The action plan and partnership framework take on 15 of those recommendations. There has been significant progress on the remainder.

For example, ACE and HLF have signed a Memorandum of Understanding and published a statement on protecting collections at risk alongside other major museums and heritage bodies. ACE has been working on reviewing its Accreditation schemes and Museums Development programmes, part of taking a stronger strategic lead for the sector (recommendations 13-19). Through its new strategic framework HLF is considering how funding decisions will align with the priorities for Lottery funding (recommendations 20-25).

The DCMS museums team is working to make sure a detailed case is being made for the importance of museums; looking at international work, particularly in the context of Brexit; and examining the best ways for museums to assess their impact. DCMS and ACE are working with the Local Government Association on local authority museums and operational freedoms (recommendations 5-11).

Next steps

Historic England delivered its report on the capacity issues of archaeological archives. ACE and HE are taking action together on tackling these problems (recommendation 27), and working on listed museums’ maintenance issues (26).

My Review didn’t make grandstanding, unachievable or impractical recommendations. However what I did suggest were changes and improvements to the care of the museum sector at the points at which government has influence. We have set Arts Council England as the strategic lead for the sector. There are recommendations for them, the Heritage Lottery Fund, our great national and regional museums, Historic England, local authorities and DCMS itself. Many of these changes are subtle but, over time, will lead to significant improvement in how government deals with museums. You will start seeing some of that change soon.

This blog was first published on the DCMS website. Some links have been changed to reflect stories covered in Museums + Heritage Advisor