March 30, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 30 March 2020

Notes from today’s DCMS-hosted museum sector meeting: 30 March 2020.

  1. The broad picture

Many heritage organisations, including independent museums, do not have the capacity to continue trading for more than a few months, notwithstanding the various support schemes announced by the government. University museums will be looking at the (more or less damaging) loss of revenue but are institutionally sheltered from near-term business failure. However, if numerous non-university museums fail financially, there are likely to be knock-on consequences for the funding and health of the wider sector that are difficult to assess at present.

  1. Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The details are still emerging, and there will be further guidance published very soon, but the expectation is that universities will not in general be furloughing employees, hence will not be likely to be eligible. Should any member be aware that their university or a university proposes to furlough staff (i.e. require them to take unpaid leave), please let us know.

  1. Building access

The Co-Chairs wrote to Universities UK on this matter on Friday 27 March. The last substantive paragraph, requesting support for the registration of collections staff among those performing essential work, appears now to be superceded: DCMS advise that ‘Anyone who has to travel to work, can travel to work’.

We are aware that a number of universities are in the process of generating letters which officially confirm that individual staff are required to go to work (for us, attend sites to undertake security and environmental checks). Although we are not aware that UK police are yet asking people going to work to produce proof of their need to do so, museum directors may wish to provide staff with letters now, to ensure that they do not encounter difficulties, given that it may take central university services some time to provide such documents.

  1. Construction

It was acknowledged that this has been an area of confusion. DCMS staff say that the government does not require construction projects to halt. If your institution is engaged in a major project, and there is uncertainty as to whether work will carry on or not, you may wish to seek guidance from the DCMS team (covid19-mcp@culture.gov.uk), which may help clarify the options for your university estates managers and contractors themselves. Of course, work may stop on some sites because contractors’ staff are self-isolating, etc., but in so far as we can understand the official position, it is that work may continue.

Nicola Kalinsky / Nicholas Thomas
Co-Chairs
University Museums Group