April 9, 2020

Update from Co-Chairs, 9 April 2020

These notes draw on a DCMS cross-sector meeting yesterday (8 April) and a meeting between DCMS and ourselves today (9 April), as well as other updates and advice we have received.

  1. The DCMS museums team has been closely monitoring independent and other museums that may face insolvency within 8 weeks, while noting that there is currently uncertainty about the availability and timing of any relevant support for institutions at risk of financial failure.
  2. National museums and universities alike have been closely engaged in exploring scope to furlough staff and draw on support from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. It’s now clear that nearly all national museums will be going down this route. As of today we understand some universities have decided not to do so, or not to do so immediately. Others do plan to furlough staff, potentially including museum staff, and particularly but not necessarily exclusively those in front-of-house, commercial and technical roles. It should be noted that the approaches being considered would top up the 80% government contribution from other funds, so that the staff concerned would not see any change in their pay, nor would there be any implication that their employment would not continue as previously after furlough. Treasury however discourages topping-up, taking the view that reserves and trading income should be guarded in support of medium term sustainability.

We expect universities to make their approaches to furloughing clearer in the near future, and would appreciate any information you may be in a position to share over coming days and weeks.

  1. Both the Arts Council England and the Heritage Fund have announced emergency schemes; see links at bottom. The Heritage Fund is also looking at scope for grant holders to repurpose or seek increases to awards. DCMS is also in the early stages of discussion with a group of charities with interests in the cultural sector who it is hoped may provide support in the short to medium term, possibly through a joint scheme.
  2. As noted above, we had the chance today to provide DCMS with an update from the perspective of university museums. We drew attention (1) to loss of revenue issues; (2) to ongoing consideration within universities of furloughing, but (3) signalled that the biggest issue would probably be the knock-on consequences of a major hit to universities’ revenue, arising particularly from a likely collapse in international student recruitment for the academic year 2020-21. We indicated that while, over the past few years, university leaders have become more aware of the contributions their museums make, to research impact, teaching, student experience, civic engagement and international reach, there is nevertheless a sense that our institutions are ‘non-core’: by definition we are therefore vulnerable in any particularly challenging financial situation. It was noted that university finances have in any case come under considerable pressure recently, compounded by shortfalls likely to arise from reduced EU student numbers, uncertainty about access to European research funding, etc.

Our understanding is that while university senior management are modelling financial impacts, their projections are not yet being widely shared within institutions, nor are they yet providing guidance regarding steps that may be taken in response to acute difficulties, such as moratoria on replacing staff or redundancy schemes.

  1. DCMS colleagues are aware that university museums represent over a third of designated and recognized collections, and that there are many cities and towns in which our institutions are the major providers of the museum service. They are therefore keenly interested in knowing of any university museum which in due course may be threatened with cuts or possible closure.

They advised that institutions in such situations can share financial information in confidence.

We are equally anxious to have news from institutions, especially any news of any approach to university resources that may impact adversely on members. Please keep in touch with us; should you wish to contact the DCMS team directly, the relevant email address is: covid19-mcp@culture.gov.uk

Nicola Kalinsky / Nicholas Thomas
Co-Chairs
University Museums Group