Museums won’t be consigned to history

CULTURE Secretary James Purnell yesterday praised the region’s “world-class” cultural attractions and pledged support for the funding scheme that has underpinned their development.

CULTURE Secretary James Purnell yesterday praised the region’s “world-class” cultural attractions and pledged support for the funding scheme that has underpinned their development.

Beamish Museum, County Durham

He also pledged to visit the region’s museums and insisted the renaissance in the regions programme was not a “one-off” and was intended to be an ongoing project, although talks about the outcome of the Government’s spending review were continuing.

Mr Purnell added the scheme was having a transforming effect with more than 13 million visits made to funded museums in England, 3.7 million of those by children, after being asked for a statement on its impact by Durham North MP Kevan Jones in the Commons.

Mr Jones also asked if the Culture Secretary would join him in congratulating North-East museums, who with Government support had seen record numbers of school visits – including Beamish open air museum in his constituency with 43,000 school visits last year.

“Would he take time out of his busy schedule to visit Beamish and also North-East museums to thank them for the tremendous work they are doing on behalf of the museums sector in the North-East?” added the Durham North MP.

Mr Purnell said: “I’d be delighted to visit Beamish with him and indeed to see the work that is being done in the North-East.

“The £1.4m that has gone in has enabled us to triple the number of visits by children and Beamish is just one of the many world-class cultural attractions in the North-East. Thanks to the money that has been put in in the last 10 years, culture in Britain is truly world-class and my job is to make sure it stays that way.”

The Culture Secretary also stressed his “strong support” for the renaissance programme after facing questions on funding.

Shadow culture minister Ed Vaizey asked whether he would heed recent warnings from MPs that funding should be at the very least sustained.

“Per capita arts lottery funding in England has fallen to its lowest ever level. A full pound less than four years ago, four times lower than Scotland and eight times lower than in Wales,” he added.

But Mr Purnell said declining lottery revenue was the cause and pointed out the renaissance scheme had been described by MPs as an “ideal” Treasury programme.

“I am sure that will be listened to, but obviously before the spending review we can’t make any announcements on that, but we do intend it to be an ongoing programme,” said the Culture Secretary.

Tyne and Wear museums director Alec Coles said he was delighted Mr Jones had raised the programme in Parliament and was grateful for cross-party support.

“It just shows what an impact it is having and how well it is being recognised. And we are encouraged by the comments of the Secretary of State. We hope this will eventually be reflected in the outcome of the spending round,” he said.

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson said: “I am cautiously optimistic that the minister’s words may mean a renewed lease of life to this vital cultural programme for the North-East.”

But the MP for Gateshead East and Washington West pledged to keep the pressure up on ministers to continue investment, saying it had already achieved impressive results.

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