THE future of the region’s leading museums has been put at risk after the Government announced plans to withdraw more than £2.5m in funding.
Officials at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have announced plans to pull their annual grant to Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums.
Venues such as the Great North Museum and the Discovery Museum have been told they will have to look elsewhere for a substantial chunk of their running costs.
Losing the grant, which currently represents around 15% of the organisation’s budget, could see some the region’s best-loved cultural attractions forced to axe exhibitions or cut opening hours.
Ministers want to rid themselves of any responsibility for regional art venues within four years.
There are hopes of finding an alternative sponsor to step into the gap by April next year, but as yet no guarantees have been given on future funding.
Eight organisations across the UK are affected, including Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, which runs major sites across the region, including the Great North Museum: Hancock, Arbeia Fort in South Shields, the Hatton Gallery and Monkwearmouth Station Museum.
Mark Taylor, director of the national Museums Association, warned the plans could mean the museums and galleries are forced to make drastic savings.
These would be likely to include reduced or part-time opening hours, and only a limited amount of cash for major exhibitions, he suggested.
“I can’t see how this announcement is going to be a good thing for museums in Tyne and Wear,” he said. “It is code for cuts. They have said they want these organisations off their books.”
In 2009-2010, the department’s grant-in-aid to Tyne and Wear Museums was worth £2.4m – some 15% of the organisation’s £15m budget.
Although sponsorship will remain in place for the next four years, and will even increase to £2.85m per year, the future of the grant after 2015 looks shaky.
A DCMS spokesman said: “The Government has provided all its sponsored museums with a funding settlement to the end of the spending period in 2014-2015.
“We are now exploring whether the department’s non-national museums may be more effectively sponsored through other bodies or programmes in the longer term. We aim to identify alternative sponsors for these museums by April 2011.
“There is no question of cutting these museums adrift without any financial support in the unlikely event that no new sponsorship arrangements can be found.”
Mr Taylor said: “The big issue is the money itself, and working out other solutions. The solution for each of the affected museums will be slightly different, but they have been vague about what they mean.” He said it would be a disaster if local authorities were expected to foot the bill.
“Central government can’t expect local government to pick up the tab when they are already facing 30% spending cuts,” he said. “That is potentially very alarming.”
Iain Watson, acting director of Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums said the organisation would “continue to work closely” with the Government as he searches for new funds.
He added: “We welcome the assurance from DCMS that it is confident new sponsors will be identified and that there is no question of cutting museums adrift.”
Other affected organisations include the National Football Museum in Manchester and London’s Design Museum.