The Science Museum has threatened to close one of its three branches in northern England – the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, the National Rail Museum in York or the National Media Museum in Bradford – if the government cuts its budget as planned.
Ian Blatchford, director of the Science Museum Group, told a press briefing in London that he feared a 10% cut in support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the group’s main source of funding , when the government’s spending review is announced at the end of this month. This would come on top of a 25 percent reduction in real terms over the past four years.
“The reason for removing a museum outright is that I would rather have three world-class museums than four mediocre museums,” Mr Blatchford said. “We are looking at a range of options, but if an additional 10% reduction is made. . . there would be little choice but to close one of our museums.
The museums of the North attract more than 2 million visitors per year.
In Manchester, there was a storm of protests with a pressure group already campaigning to save “Mosi”, which joined the museum group in 2012 and is housed in the oldest passenger rail station. Mancuniens Brian Cox, television physicist who teaches at the University of Manchester, Clint Boon, DJ and former leader of the group Inspiral Carpets, denounced the idea.
Michael Taylor, Chairman of the Downtown Manchester in Business Club, said: “It’s not just a nice attraction in the city center, it’s an integral part of what Manchester is.”
Others have expressed outrage that museums in the north can be ‘sacrificed’ to keep the science museum in London open, although Mr Blatchford said: ‘The Science Museum in London will take its share of cuts . “
Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, told the Manchester Evening News: “I am appalled that we end up with only museums in London. Some 90% of funding for art galleries and museums already goes to London. “
However, the Museum of Science and Industry said that when it agreed to merge with the Museum of Science, its government grant was transferred “on condition that the site and collections are kept for at least 25 years” , which raises questions as to whether it could be closed.
Sir Richard Leese, head of Manchester City Council, said he believed the museum would remain open.
The heads of the York and Bradford councils, who met with directors of the Science Museum last week, suggested the business department, which funds scientific research and universities, could step in to replace funding for the culture department .
The Science Museum projects a deficit of £ 2million per year in its operating budget from next year. This would reach an unsustainable deficit of £ 6million per year with a further 10% reduction.
But a government source said: “Talking about closing regional museums is unacceptable and the Science Museum Group knows it. These are difficult times, but we have been absolutely clear that the front line must be protected and the doors to our museums kept open. “
Although the reintroduction of admission fees has been proposed as a way to raise funds, government policy excludes this option. “It makes it very clear that we cannot charge for admission,” Mr Blatchford said.
Maurice Davies, Policy Officer at the Museums Association, commented: “This is an alarming demonstration of the very real effect that cuts can have on service delivery. This shows the utter absurdity of the government’s early claims that the cuts would not affect frontline services. ”