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In Charity We Trust

September 17, 2013


Although the average museum visitor may not have noticed, there are an increasing number of local authority museums which have become charitable trusts. They include medium and even large museums and museum services have transferred from the public sector. York, Sheffield, Luton, Birmingham and Braintree. Perhaps it’s a bit of an anorak point, and why would anyone, apart from the staff, be interested in a change of governance? In most cases the major funder remains the same local authority, the buildings and collections often still belong to the same authority.

So what changes? Well for starters charities are more tax efficient. Trusts potentially can attract more external funding. The main business of a Museum Trust is likely to be a high priority for the Trustees. This is not necessarily so for Councillors or senior officers of a local authority who may have more pressing concerns such as Social Services, Highways and Waste Management, all of which have far more resources allocated to them than even the largest of museums. It also provides more flexibility in relation to employment practices. New staff often receive less generous remuneration when they join these Trust, especially with regards pensions.

So why have not more public sector museums moved to Trust status before? Well between 1975 and 2005 around 30 organisations transferred.

Moving to Museum Trusts:
Learning from Experience, MLA 2006

This trend seems to be quickening in the last decade. The pressures on government funding has meant the status quo is becoming increasingly untenable. However there are risks; leaving the safety of local authority means that you are partly on your own. Will the new Trustees take their responsibilities seriously? The failure or success of a Trust Chief Executive is far more important, than a Head of a Museum within an authority. Finally trusts can be vulnerable to subsequent reductions in public sector grants, especially as redundancy costs will full on the Trust rather than the public sector.

From → Funding, Trusts

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