Museums chief advises Ed Vaizey to 'get out more'

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The Independent Online

The head of the Museums Association will today deliver a hard-hitting attack on the Culture Minister, telling him "to get out more" and stop treating museum specialists like "children".

In a speech at the association's conference, Vanessa Trevelyan will tell Ed Vaizey that museum closures, reduced openings and curatorial losses ridicule government claims of financial savings through back-room cuts. Mr Vaizey is due to attend the conference in Brighton for his own speech.

In her speech, Ms Trevelyan will say: "Minister, I am afraid you really do need to get out more and talk to the people trying to deliver museum services with diminishing budgets. To suggest that cuts of anything from 15 to 30 per cent can be borne without debilitating cuts in our public services is naive at best and disingenuous at worst... Let's not pretend that our front-line services will carry on as before."

Ms Trevelyan is president of the MA, which represents more than 600 institutions nationwide. Separately, she also heads Norfolk's 13 museums and, as a result of cuts, has been forced to close two. Other regions are suffering similar closures, she said.

Challenging the Minister's view of "back-office efficiencies", she told The Independent of an MA survey which found more than 60 per cent of museums have cut back their public events, half have reduced the hours that they open, and more than 85 per cent have cut staff.

For example, cuts have forced the British Museum to close its Paul Hamlyn public library of more than 50,000 books and journals, and to reduce its late opening from two to one night a week. "That doesn't sound like back-office savings to me," Trevelyan said, calling for a proper debate and arguing that core costs – such as maintaining buildings – cannot be reduced.

Her views were echoed by David Fleming, director of National Museums Liverpool: "There are museums that are disposing of collections, closing down buildings. Posts are being lost... It's not just a case of identifying wasteful practices and stopping doing them. That's a myth and a lie."

Mr Vaizey's spokesman said: "In this tough economic climate, we got a decent settlement for museums in the spending review last year and the scale of the cut should not be impacting on the front line. On top of that we maintained free entry into museums, ensuring that visitors can enjoy this country's rich cultural heritage."