Museums at risk as cash-strapped council tries to save £223m
MUSEUMS across Lancashire could be under threat as County Hall chiefs work to balance the books.
Bosses are looking at every service provided by the authority to find massive savings, after it was revealed the council needs 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.
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.
Local historian and civic expert Aidan Turner-Bishop said: “There are some very clever people work for the museums and once that’s gone, it’s gone and we get a diluted service.
“Maybe they need to think about alternative ways.”
He said in other cities, museums were no longer run by local authorities and instead run by trusts.
Mr Turner Bishop said: “They are more flexible in the way they can run things and they can get funding which local authorities can’t, so maybe the idea of a local authority-run museum service is fading away.”
A document seen by the Lancashire Evening Post says Lancashire Museums is a 100 per cent non-statutory service.
It says before the ceasing of any museum, there would be a consultation with partners from other councils.
It also says there is likely to be a commercial value to some items or collections, which could be sold to other museums or collectors.
It says: “There is no obvious legal impact of stopping the museums, arts development, 84 per cent of the cultural services support and development team and the community heritage services, however the impact for staff, citizens of Lancashire, wider economic and social value of those services need to be considered prior to any decision being made.”
Coun David Borrow, deputy leader of the county council, said no decisions had been made yet. He 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 a budget working group was looking at what was statutory and non-statutory over a series of meeting.
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.
“We are looking to what extent things that are statutory could be delivered more cheaply, we are looking at what reserves we’ve got to free up other things. Among the non-statutory things are street lighting.
“Economic development and the support we give to the Local Enterprise Partnership is not statutory.
“It would be difficult to envisage us not wanting to do those.
“So we are in the very early stages of working through an approach for 2017-18 and beyond.”
He said documents would be published in November making recommendations, following the review process.
He said: “Our projection in 2018/19, unless government grants are different to what we anticipate, shows a further £50m gap opening up.
“So the focus at the moment is to get the budget in place to get through 2016-17 and 2017-18.
“The size of that challenge will become clearer when the government makes their grant announcement at the end of November.”
He said every area had been divided into statutory, non-statutory and partly statutory, and said: “Among the non-statutory ones will be support for carers, but common sense would tell you if you gave that help to carers, it would help them continue to care for people longer rather than having to go into residential care, which would cost the county a lot more money.
“Residential care is statutory.” Other statutory services include adult social care, children’s services, safeguarding, waste disposal, libraries and pensioners’ bus passes.
A county council spokesman said: “We’ve undertaken an analysis of how the county council’s budget is currently allocated, to give councillors some clarity and detail that will help them to make their next round of budget decisions.
“This analysis provides a breakdown of which services, or parts of each service, are needed to fulfil a statutory requirement.
“Many services the council provides are not statutory and this analysis should not be taken as an indication of future budget proposals.
“Councillors are having to give careful consideration to all areas of the budget because of unprecedented financial pressures caused by cuts to funding by central government and rising demand for social care services.
“Options for next year’s budget will be presented in November and this will be followed by a period of consultation.”
Museums under review are:
Clitheroe Castle Museum
Helmshore Mills Textile
Lancaster Castle Museum
Lancaster City Museum
Lancaster Maritime Museum
Museum of Lancashire
Queen Street Mill Museum
The Cottage Museum