A champion of Lancaster City Museum says its closure has to be “out of the question” despite the threat of more budget cuts.
Lancaster City Museum, Lancaster Castle Museum, The Judges’ Lodgings, Lancaster Maritime Museum and The Cottage Museum are all on a list of 12 under review as Lancashire County Council looks to make millions of pounds worth of cuts to services.
Visitor numbers at all five museums have fallen between seven and 22 per cent over the past year, according to county council figures.
Historians say it would be a sad loss if experienced staff lost their jobs, but said the authority could come up with creative solutions to make the cuts without the need for closures.
Bosses are reviewing every service provided by the authority, which is required by government to cut an extra £223m by 2020.
Leaders have divided all services into what must be provided legally and what is non-statutory, and museums are one of the many areas under threat.
Bosses have stressed the reviews are not proposals, and every area of the council is being scrutinised to make way for cuts.
Coun Roger Mace, chair of the Friends of Lancaster City Museum, which has seen visitor numbers reduce by 17.6 per cent (61,062 in 2013/14 to 50,316 in 2014/15), said: “The management of the city museum has been under review for the last two years.
“The collections and the museum building itself belong to the city council and the current arrangement, which started in 2002, is that its managed with an agreement with Lancashire County Council.
“The leader of the city council has agreed that proposals for any changes in the future management of the museums service in Lancaster will be brought to a meeting in December.”
Coun Mace said one option could be to take the museum back in-house, as it was before 2002, as a short term measure, while plans were made about alternative arrangements in the long term.
He added: “Closure has got to be out of the question.”
Visitors to the Judges’ Lodgings in Lancaster fell by 21 per cent between 2014 and 2015, a reduction from 12,565 to 9,930.
Visitors to the county council’s tours and museum at Lancaster Castle fell by 11.1 per cent (45,488 to 40,444), while Lancaster Maritime Museum visitors fell by 7.1 per cent (13,825 to 12,838), and The Cottage Museum by 22 per cent from 5,670 to 4,398.
Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of the county council said: “The division between statutory and non-statutory is not the same as the division between important and not important.
“Clearly some of the things that are non-statutory are things that are very important, and we are wrestling with how we manage to cope with that situation.
“We’re not making that decision at the moment.
“Over the next few weeks there will be a lot of meetings taking place to analyse to what extent we can reduce the costs in relation to the statutory services and how much we can free up.
He said: “The analysis shows in 2017-18 we would barely have enough money to do the statutory things, although obviously that would be dependent on the grant settlement which will come out at the end of the year.”
County and City Coun Darren Clifford, chair of the Museums Partnership Advisory Panel in Lancashire said: “The situtation is terrible, and has been caused directly by central government. Lancashire County Council has been disproportionately penalised. This is the financial result of having a government that’s ideologically cutting local government spending.”