Select Committee Inquiry

As part of a short inquiry by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee into the Future of the Science Museum Group an evidence session with some of the key interest groups took place on 2nd July 2013.

Written evidence

This is the written evidence supplied in advance to the Select Committee.

Context supplied by the Select Committee

The taxpayer provides approximately 62% of the Science Museum Group’s funding in the form of a grant from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The rest of its income derives from commercial activities (21%), grants, legacies and donations. The Group — like other bodies funded by the DCMS — has already seen its grant reduced, and it appears that there may be a further reduction of 10% as a consequence of the next government spending review. The Group Director is reported as having said that, in these circumstances, there would be little choice other than to close one of the museums. Decisions on this may be taken in the autumn.

Each of the museums is of local and national importance, and is thought to play a significant role in the local economy.

The Culture, Media and Sport Committee has therefore decided to hold a short inquiry as soon as possible into the future of the Science Museum Group, focusing on the local, national and international significance of the institutions, on the scope for further commercial development to support each institution’s cultural and educational activities, and other options to improve the financial position of the Group.

Further imformation can be found on the Select Committee diary.

The uncorrected transcript of oral evidence was published by the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee following the Select Committee meeting on Tuesday 2 July and can be viewed in the Parliamentary records.

The following text is an extract from this transcript:

Q29 Philip Davies: Finally, everybody heard today in public the robustness of the Minister’s response about the future of the National Media Museum, the same robustness that we heard in private at our meeting. Would you like to now take this opportunity to make it abundantly clear to everybody that the National Media Museum will not be closing and its future is secure?

Ian Blatchford: I would be delighted to do so and also, if I may, explain why it has taken us so long to say that because I think some people, particularly in those local communities, might have thought we were deliberately tormenting them. I will start with that, because I am afraid it is a rather tedious thing to have to go through, but it is rather important. The crucial thing from the point of view of the trustees of the Science Museum was that when we said something, it was definitive, and the worst possible outcome would be to say something and then two weeks later say, "Oh, by the way, we have discovered that we do not have any capital funding", or there is some other problem with the funding arrangements that meant that a promise made couldn’t be sustained, which would be clearly a disaster for everyone. The stages in our mind were, first of all, my chairman and I went to see the Minister to clarify the meaning of his comments, in civil service speak, but the serious point that is very productive from that meeting-and the Minister has already mentioned it-is the idea that he will be pursuing a number of avenues for funding. I think if those come off it would be a significant breakthrough, not only in terms of the Science Museum Group but also in a way of doing business. That was on Wednesday last week. On Thursday we had a board of trustees, and clearly they, we should all remember, are legally responsible for all the museums and ultimately they have the decisions. Then we were waiting both on Friday and also Monday for verbal reassurances about the level of our revenue and capital funding, and although the revenue funding was very much in the public domain, the capital wasn’t. Although we do not know the precise number, we had been given very strong indications that it was a level that is rather welcome.

The answer to your question is, because of all of that now happening and the Minister’s clear commitment publicly that the museums do not need to close, I can say that the museums are not shutting. The way I would put it, in a way that will mean a lot to local communities, is that in quite a lot of national press and regional press, after the Minister’s previous statements in the following week, it all said that the museums are "saved", and the "saved" was in quotation marks. The message this morning is, "Take the quotation marks off".