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Fears of Cuts Impact at York's National Railway Museum


2:41pm 20th June 2013

York Central MP Hugh Bayley has urged the government to give more support to the National Railway Museum. T

he Science Museum Group had feared there would be a 10% cut to their budget, which could mean closing one of its museums, but it is understood the budget may now be reduced by 5%.

Mr Bayley pointed out that a 5% cut would lead to the deficit for the group increasing from  £2 million a year to £4 million a year.

Mr Bayley said he was also concerned the government had not confirmed whether the Science Museum Group would receive their capital funding of between £2 million and £2.5 million, without which the National Railway Museum would be unable to carry out essential maintenance works such as repairing the museum roof.

Although the museum would remain open the deficit would increase every year and there would be less money available to conserve the precious artifacts. 

Mr Bayley’s speech was as follows:

“Hugh Bayley (York Central) (Lab): I am fortunate to represent the beautiful historic city of York. It is a vibrant centre for the arts, science, craft skills, technology and the creative industries. It is important to realise that they feed off each other—we cannot silo the arts away from science and think that the one does not affect the other. We have apprentice stonemasons being trained at York Minster and wood carvers. The York Glaziers Trust is restoring the biggest mediaeval work of art in the world, the great east window of York Minster, in a £30 million project. Exhibition designers have just installed the new York Minster Revealed exhibition in the undercroft below York Minster, which combines Roman remains with interactive computer-driven displays, so that people can imagine what life was like almost 2,000 years ago. We have software engineers who have designed some of the world’s most popular computer games. I could talk about all these things, but instead I want to talk about one thing only: the Science Museum Group, which includes the National Railway museum in York.

On 5 June, the director of the Science Museum Group, Ian Blatchford, said:

“If an additional 10% cut is made when the spending review is announced at the end of the month, there would be little choice other than to close one of our museums.”

Following that statement, I tabled two parliamentary questions to ask the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) whether free admission to national museums would be retained—he answered yes, and I thank him for that—and whether sufficient funding would be made available to keep open all of the Science Museum Group’s museums. I got an equivocal answer at that time, but when I was on Radio York with the Minister yesterday morning, he gave a clear answer, saying that he believed sufficient funding was being made available to the Science Museum Group to keep all its museums open.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, Shildon in my constituency is home to one of the branches of the National Railway museum. It is immensely successful. Last year, it had 200,000 visitors, brought £6 million into the regional economy and trained 100 young people. Does he agree that, as railways made Britain great and that these are among the most popular of our national museums, free entry is absolutely essential?

Hugh Bayley: It is absolutely essential.

I take it that the Minister’s comment on the radio in Yorkshire yesterday applied to all the sites—to Shildon as well as to the York branch of the National Railway museum.

I also tabled a parliamentary question to ask about the Government’s funding for the Science Museum Group. The Minister replied yesterday, for which I am grateful. He told me that if the funding were pooled for the Science museum, which includes the York, Shildon and Bradford museums, the Museum for Science and Industry in Manchester, which was funded separately until recently, and the National Coal Mining museum, one would see that the total had fallen from £48.25 million in 2009-10 to £42.25 million this year. That is a reduction of more than 15% after inflation is taken into account.

We are told that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport secured a reduction of only 5% in its funding settlement. If the Science museum received a further cut of 5%, its structural deficit would increase from about £2 million a year to £4 million a year. Nothing has been said yet about the capital funding of between £2 million and £2.5 million. If that is not provided, the deficit will of course increase further, because revenue money would have to be used to repair the roof of the museum and for other capital works. If the Science Museum Group does not receive capital money in addition, the deficit will rise and, even though the doors of the museums will stay open, the greater the deficit, the less money there will be for preserving and conserving their artefacts, for research, for public education and outreach and for collecting new assets. It is odd that a Conservative Government should be doing significantly less to conserve our national heritage than was being done before. We face the real danger of our museums being hollowed out. It is not just me saying that; the directors of our national museums are saying it, too.

Our museums, including the National Railway museum, have some of the most valuable artefacts in the world. We have George Stephenson’s original engineering drawings for the Rocket. We have the Mallard, which won the world speed record for a steam locomotive 75 years ago. This year, the museum has assembled the other five remaining Gresley class locomotives in York, probably for the first and last time in history. I once took the US Senator Paul Sarbanes, who is a bit of a railway enthusiast, to the National Railway museum in York. He represented the state of Maryland, which includes Baltimore, home of the US’s biggest railway museum, but he was completely knocked out by our museum. It is in a class of its own, internationally.

The artefacts in our national museums in Bradford, Manchester, South Kensington, York and Shildon are some of the most important and valuable cultural assets in the world. They are like fantastic flowers in a garden. I put it to the Secretary of State that if we do not keep feeding their roots, those flowers will wither and die. There is a danger that, by taking millions and millions out of those museums each year, they will no longer have the resources to keep their collections up to date, conserved and available to the public, now and for future generations.

The Science Museum Group attracts 5 million visitors a year—2 million of whom visit the northern museums—and another 20 million visitors online. It has a diverse range of visitors, with more black and minority ethnic visitors than any other national museum and more from lower socio-economic groups. Also, 60% of its visitors are from outside London and the south-east. The northern museums are not regional museums; they are national and international institutions. The majority of people visiting the National Railway museum in my constituency come from outside Yorkshire and the north of England.

If the Government want to promote growth, they need to inspire more young people to take an interest in engineering, science and technology, which is what the Science Museums Group does. It is no accident that my son, now a railway engineer, was a frequent visitor to science museums in his youth. The Government need to keep these museums alive, and I beg that they do just that.”

Hugh Bayley MP says:

“The Minister says the museum will not close but it’s not yet out of the woods. The museum needs sufficient money to restore and preserve the precious objects in its collection.

“The Culture Select Committee is holding an Inquiry into the Future of the Science Museum Group and I have spoken to the Chair of the Committee, John Whittindale, to make sure the inquiry will cover the National Railway Museum and look at whether the museum gets enough money to look after the collection and make the story of the railways widely available to the public.”



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