George Osborne tackled over museum closure


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Indy Politics

A group representing 11 local authorities has written to Chancellor George Osborne expressing its serious concerns about the possible closure of a major museum in the north of England.

Earlier this month, the director of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford, said it may be forced to shut either the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Railway Museum in York or Bradford's National Media Museum as a result of the Government's squeeze on its budgets.

Mr Blatchford said the prospect of a further 10% extra cut in funding meant "almost certainly" that one of the museums would have to go.

Now council leaders from across the Leeds City Region have written to Mr Osborne.

The region consists of 11 local authorities - Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield, York and North Yorkshire County Council.

The have told the chancellor the three northern national museums play a crucial role in educating and inspiring future generations of scientists and engineers to drive our country's economy and its international competitiveness.

They say the museums are also vital to the local and regional economies of Bradford, York and Manchester.

According to the councils, the National Media Museum in Bradford contributes over £24 million per annum to the city and district's economy in indirect offsite expenditure. It employs 103 full time equivalent staff.

The National Railway Museum, in York, attracts 700,000 visitors a year with an economic impact of between £40-50 million. The group say it is a significant factor in the York's plans to double the value of tourism in 10 years.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester provides a direct benefit of over £7 million as a direct employer and purchaser and generates indirect offsite expenditure of nearly £28 million.

The council leaders said they are also concerned for the long term future of the National Coal Mining Museum, near Wakefield, which is now contracted through the Science Museum Group.

Councillor Peter Box, Leader of Wakefield Council and chairman of the Leeds City Region Leaders Board, said: "In our letter to the Chancellor we propose that funding for the Science Museum Group is moved from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Also that the current level of funding is protected, in the long term interests of our northern cities and the nation as a whole."

Councillor James Alexander, Leader of City of York Council, said: "The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills has a £13 million 'science and society' programme and spends its money on a plethora of initiatives, but not on the Science Museum Group. This does not make sense because the science museums are trusted by the public and teachers and have the best experience of presenting science with the greatest impact and reach across the country."

Councillor David Green, Leader of Bradford Council, said: "Meetings have taken place between Bradford, York and Manchester councils and with the Science Museum Group to discuss how we might support the future of the national science museums in our cities. Clearly, the economic and cultural impact of closing a national science museum in Bradford, York or Manchester would be devastating."

Since the announcement of the possible closure of one of the museums a number of well-known people have pledged their support to their local institutions.

These include the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, who is backing the campaign for the National Railway Museum, and singers Gareth Gates and Kimberley Walsh, who have come out in support of Bradford's National Media Museum.

World famous artist David Hockney today called any proposal to close the National Media Museum a "catastrophe".

Bradford-born Hockney told the Telegraph & Argus: "Of course it would be a catastrophe if it closed.

"I said once that attractive buildings attract people. Think of Venice or Florence or even Paris, but I don't expect Bradford to do that."