Should museums pursue trust status?

March 12 2012

There is much debate in the UK at the moment whether local authority museums, and to a lesser extent archives and libraries, should break free from control by local councillors and enter into what is called Trust Status, which affords much greater independence. In this month's Museums Journal there is an amusing letter* from Laura Wigg-Bailey extolling the benefits:

Being part of a trust is like going off to work or university for the first time – terrifying but totally worth it. You may make mistakes, you may blow the budget on getting Sky Plus or food from Waitrose instead of Lidl but you soon learn that your mistakes affect no one but yourself and you pretty soon put them right. 

In my experience, being part of a local authority museum service means bland corporate marketing, no freedom to respond to new media, and a procurement system that has a minor meltdown when you try to order a replica Viking helmet.

It means councillors who know practically nothing about what their museums and galleries are really for and whose social skills mean any opportunities for advocacy are cancelled out as they make a beeline for the free buffet. 

As for favourable employment conditions – after recent ructions over local authority pensions who can say how long these benefits will continue to outshine those in the private or third sectors? 

No, give me trust status any day and I’ll follow the advice of Adrian Babbidge (as I did when taking over the management of the Uttoxeter Heritage Centre from the local town council) and ensure a water-tight agreement between the local authority and the trust so that museums don’t close or run into the ground from lack of investment.

* to which I was alerted by Peter Davies

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