Sunday, 1 August 2010

The Abolition of MLA: Is Part of a Wider Threat to Inclusive Heritage?

'Half baked posh kids have taken over and I don't think they know what they are doing and dangerously they think they do.' So comments a friend who works in the heritage world.

The news that the MLA is being axed as part of the cull of quangos, raises serious questions about the future of infrastructure support for museums, libraries and archives. After all the cut is not about diverting the money into other forms of funding these organisations. Apart from a whole tranche of staff flooding onto the heritage freelance market at a time when there will be less money available for projects for freelancers to work on, questions must be asked as to what the policy will be on:
(a) the preservation of the MLA archive;
(b) the resources available on the MLA website;
(c) the continued availability of MLA publications.

and what the effect will be on the Culture 24 website it partners:

I know there will be many people in archives, libraries and museums who will not mourn the MLA's passing because they regarded it as an absolute disaster, spending a load of money on expensive consultants and costly managers, mostly from outside sector for projects no one wanted.

Implications for Regional Funding

More importantly concern has been expressed to me that if it is not just the abolition of the MLA structures but the funding streams routed through MLAs, then the closure of what appears to be simply bureaucratic structures, offices and staff in fact disguises the end of state funds, unless there's a way for regional museums to obtain funds from the centre. This is because some MLA funding has been directed at 'regional hubs' that have materially assisted other museums in their areas. For the past decade these have flourished and will lose out under the proposed dispensation as alternative funding from local resources especially local authorities is not and cannot be available.

Implications for Widening Audiences

Under the Labour Government's policy programmes became more aimed at including requiring museums and archives etc to expand their audiences from social classes 3, 4 and 5 and BME communities, with funding became partly dependent on achieving this. This prompted organisations to adapt their practice with some very good initiatives and results.

In addition the major funding input for 2007 prompted many museums from large to small to plan and deliver displays, events, etc related to this and often organised by BME personnel. There was also the Insight programme which funded minority personnel into training positions in museums where they were and remain signally underrepresented. The fear is that all these policies will presumably vanish and the sector will revert to being virtually all white in terms of audiences and staffing.

Threat to HLF?

The axing of the MLA must be also seen within the wider context of what looks like a broader attack on inclusive heritage: not just changes to the history curriculum in schools, but also the reported threat to the Heritage Lottery Fund.

If it is axed the money raised by the National Lottery for heritage projects will still have to be distributed. After all the Government is consulting on getting the National Lottery back to its original purpose of 20% each for sport, culture and heritage. So if this happens it will mean cuts in those programmes that Labour added to the Lottery. See

Clearly there is a need for a debate about what all this means for the future of the heritage sector as whole, but crucially for us the impact on Black & Asian, community, labour movement, radical, mutuality, public and women's heritage activity.

The Need to Campaign

While there has been a flurry of activity: e.g. see:;, as a friend has pointed out to me there has been no concerted protest in the way that there has been against the abolition of the UK Film Council.

We cannot afford to wait, as another friend has suggested, to see what the Government's approach to equalities and human rights and citizenship is going to be and then pitch in with something in ‘their’ language which encourages them to reinvent the best bits.

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