Army war on museum cuts

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The Independent Culture
Budget cuts and a management consultancy review have raised fears in curators that they are seeing the beginning of the end for the country's army museums, which include the world's best collection of tanks in Dorset, the outstanding collection of military helicopters at Andover and the Guard's Museum next to Buckingham Palace.

The Ministry of Defence is to cut almost 13 per cent from its funding of army museums from 1998 and has hired Deloitte & Touche to find ways of "improving" their appeal. The consultants have been instructed to find ways of "broadening the sources of finance for all 66 regimental and corps museums of the Army in mainland Britain", a statement said.

But the museums believe the purpose is to identify further areas for cuts. Antony Makepeace-Warne, secretary of the Army Museums Ogilby Trust, said: "The MoD has contracted a consultancy to examine all army museums and establish how further savings might be achieved.

"We can just about cope with the 1998 cut, but further cuts will cause enormous damage. They are looking at opportunities for the merging of museums and at the more borderline ones probably having to fold."

Britain has 140 army museums in total, ranging from the Tank Museum at Bovington, Dorset, and the Museum of Army Aviation near Andover to small showcases such as the Black Watch Museum at Balhousie Castle, Perth, documenting the history of one of Scotland's most famous infantry regiments.

More than 60 museum trustees met in London to authorise the Ogilby Trust to draw up their battle plan. They believe that the MoD is morally bound to continue its funding.

"About 15 years ago people were actively encouraged by the MoD to form regimental museums and the costs of staff were underwritten by the MoD," Mr Makepeace-Warne said. "Because of that a lot of people formed museums in good faith. Fifteen years later the MoD says it's going to stop and all these guys are left stranded."

The 1998 cut will save pounds 214,426 for the ministry, while the total operating cost of the 70 museums it funds directly was pounds 1.59m last year.

Captain David Horn, curator of the Guard's Museum which attracts 30,000 visitors a year, said: "We're very concerned - it is inevitable that many regimental museums will have to close ... MoD funding is vital to our survival."

Major Bowes-Crick of the Royal Fusiliers, whose museum is in Tower of London, said: "We have no idea who will face these cuts. There is simply no certainty about which museums will have their funding reduced."

But Colonel Robin Gamble, head of museums at the MoD, said the review was intended to improve marketability, although he could not rule out the possibility of closures or mergers.

"The public which goes to museums now is not the same as the public of history. Through the Fifties and Sixties people who had fought in the war or done national service went to museums to revel in their memories. Now we have a much reduced concept of what defence is," he said.