Major museums blocked from using reserves totalling £285m

Tens of millions of pounds held in the reserve accounts of Britain's major museums – much of it donated by private donations and bequests – is frozen by the Treasury, despite the arts being in the midst of the biggest funding crisis in a generation.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), acting under rules imposed by the Treasury, stipulates the net expenditure each year for the 20 major museums it funds. It also determines how much of their reserves they can access. This pot of money totals £285m across many of the country's most high-profile bodies, including the National Gallery and National Maritime Museum, but the organisations in question are being refused repeated requests to access it.

Most recently, the National Gallery and the National Maritime Museum have been refused requests to access their significant reserve monies by the DCMS, according to an investigation published in The Art Newspaper. "One of the consequences of major museums being non-departmental public bodies is that they must adhere to Treasury guidelines," said Michael Dixon, chairman of the National Museum Directors' conference. "This goes back to accounting regulations introduced in 2000 by Government,"

In 2008, the National Maritime Museum trustees voted to spend £3.5m from its own reserves on gallery refurbishments, but this was subsequently blocked by the DCMS. Minutes from a trustee meeting in September of that year said that "with no access to its reserves, the museum will not be able to deliver the exhibitions or gallery renewal it has planned".

The museum's managers said the new freeze was of "great concern, as it significantly reduces their own independence as trustees and may well deter donors". They also called the Treasury a "shadow trustee".

DCMS reportedly then agreed to allow the museum to spend just £300,000 in the current financial year out of £3.5m earmarked for gallery refurbishment. Although the comprehensive spending review increased the proportion of reserves that museums could access to 50 per cent, according to The Art Newspaper there was still confusion over the rules surrounding the National Gallery's campaign to purchase Titian's 1556-59 Diana and Actaeon.

Initially, the Treasury ruled that the gallery could not use its reserves, before internal accounting at DCMS eventually allowed the purchase to take place.

The National Gallery played down its inability to access its own coffers, saying that "much of [our] income is either restricted to particular activities by the wishes of the donor, or designated by the trustees for future picture purchases".

A spokeswoman added: "Access to museum reserves is restricted by government accounting rules. This effectively means that museums have had to get permission from their sponsor department in order to spend from their reserves." A spokesman for the DCMS said: "We will be providing our national museums with the freedom to access up to £150m of their historic reserves over the next four years.

"This is an important step towards delivering on the Coalition commitment to providing greater administrative freedoms for national museums and will, we hope, encourage the museums to renew their efforts to attract further philanthropic donations."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'