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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 507-i
HOUSE OF COMMONS
TAKEN BEFORE THE
Culture, Media and Sport Committee
THE Future of the Science Museum Group
Tuesday 2 July 2013
MR Ed Vaizey MP
Tony Reeves, Kersten England and Vicky Rosin
Evidence heard in Public Questions 1 - 76
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Taken before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee
on Tuesday 2 July 2013
Mr John Whittingdale (Chair)
Mr John Leech
Mr Gerry Sutcliffe
Examination of Witness
Witness: Mr Ed Vaizey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, gave evidence.
Q1 Chair: Good morning. This morning the Committee is holding a special session on the future of the Science Museum Group, and I would like to welcome first the Minister for Communications and Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey. Perhaps you would just like to begin by giving us your view now that we know the elements of the Comprehensive Spending Review and the DCMS settlement, because when this issue first arose there was a little bit of speculation about what it was going to contain. Now we know the facts, how do you see that affecting the museum sector?
Mr Vaizey: I think the Secretary of State, Maria Miller, secured a very good settlement with the Treasury. It has always been the case when we have been dealing with the reduction in funding for arts and museums that we have sought to protect the frontline, which is a slightly bureaucratic phrase, but what it means is that money that goes directly to organisations that deliver the arts, we have tried to reduce the cuts. In the 2010 spending round, we kept the cuts to national museums down to 15%, even though our overall cut was around 30%. This time Maria Miller secured a 5% ring-fence for cuts to the national museums. While any cut is unwelcome, I think it is within the bounds of reasonableness and should give the Science Museum Group and other national museums some comfort and the opportunity to continue to do the excellent work they do.
The other point I would add is that we continue to make reforms in cultural policy that will have an impact on museums, and one of the reforms that the Chancellor announced as part of the spending review was a package of freedoms for museums. They are treated effectively as public-sector institutions by the Office of National Statistics, so their spending counts as public spending, but what we have been able to do is look at a package of measures that, when implemented, will hopefully give them a degree of financial freedom, both in terms of setting their pay rates, but also the opportunity to borrow in order to invest.
Chair: Okay; thank you. As you are aware, three of my colleagues represent constituencies that host museums within the Science Group. To some extent, I shall defer now to them.
Q2 Mr Sutcliffe: Thank you, Chairman. Good morning, Minister. On 8 April, the DCMS outlined the timetable for the settlements, and a Commission letter went out. You asked the SMG to model the impact of cuts of 5%, 10% and 15% and to return by 18 April what their proposals were. On 23 April, you met with the Director of the Science Museum Group to talk about the National Media Museum. Why just the National Media Museum and not the other museums in the group? Why specifically about them?
Mr Vaizey: We talked about a range of things. First, let me begin by saying thank you to Mr Sutcliffe, who has been very helpful throughout this process. I think this is my fifth parliamentary occasion in the last three weeks when we have had an opportunity to discuss the future of the Science Museum Group, but I have said on the record many times that both Mr Sutcliffe and other local MPs have been very helpful in this issue and there has been no grandstanding or playing politics. I would not have expected anything less, but I just wanted to put that on the record.
I think it is well known that the Science Museum Group has a number of institutions that it supports, MOSI being one, the National Media Museum as well as the Science Museum and the National Railway Museum, but it is well known that in particular the National Media Museum has seen a significant drop in visitors. I think that it was worth having a discussion to look at what options were available to reboot the National Media Museum, if I can put it that way.
Mr Sutcliffe: It was a specific meeting about the Media Museum rather than the other members of the-
Mr Vaizey: That was the main focus of the conversation.
Q3 Mr Sutcliffe: What was your view then of the press furore and MPs’ furore when the announcements were made that the three museums in the north might close, or one of them might close?
Mr Vaizey: If I am being honest, Mr Sutcliffe, I regret perhaps not speaking out earlier. When the furore broke at the beginning of June, we were obviously some three weeks away from the settlement. I knew then obviously that we were lobbying very hard with the Treasury to get a good settlement for our national museums, but obviously I could not be confident. I am aware that we effectively had up to three weeks of speculation about the future of all the Science Museum’s regional posts and that caused a great deal of concern to people living in the cities where those museums are. Thanks to Mr Sutcliffe and the efforts of other local MPs who came to meet me, I think we were able to achieve a degree of clarity. Also I think those MPs were able to communicate the passion and support that is felt in Bradford, Manchester and York for those museums.
Q4 Mr Sutcliffe: Thank you for having that meeting with the Bradford MPs and with colleagues from elsewhere connected to the other museums. There tended to be a view around that there was a north/south divide in terms of what was happening and we will speak to Mr Blatchford later about why it was the three northern museums should close rather than the whole of the group, but it has added to the perception that there is a north/south divide in terms of the cultural offer. Have you anything to say about that, or would you like to reassure people in the north?
Mr Vaizey: I think it is very regrettable. If one is being straightforward, clearly the Science Museum in London, whatever happens, will always attract the most visitors. London attracts most tourists. London has the bigger catchment area and the best transport links. However well Manchester, Bradford or York do, I think London will always outpace them in terms of visitor numbers, but I think it is important to get the message across, and it is certainly my point of view and I hope it is the point of view of directors of all our national museums, that their establishments outside London are equally important and equally treasured. It is an interesting philosophical debate, the balance between local and national branding, but it seems to me that people in cities like Manchester or Bradford appreciate the fact that a national museum has one of its bases in their community. I think having it branded as the Science Museum is extremely helpful. I do regret any perception there is a north/south divide, and I think that we need to work harder to make it clearer that these organisations outside London are equally relevant and important.
Q5 Mr Sutcliffe: Moving on, then, to be more positive now, on the Adjournment debate on 19 June you indicated that you felt that local authorities could do more to support these museums and I think you talked about better partnerships in the area. A slight problem for Bradford is that, as a result of the CSR, they are going to have to face cuts of around £100 million over the next three years, making it very difficult for them to be involved. Would you want to say a bit about what are the partnership arrangements are that you would like to see in areas like Bradford, York and Manchester?
Mr Vaizey: The leaders of the councils are giving evidence this morning. I hope that they would support the museums. I think it is very important they support the museums. There are two ways that they can support them. One is what one might loosely call moral support. That is to be actively engaged in the management of the museum, in providing resources in kind for the museum, in terms of publicity, in terms of communicating the museum’s offers to local communities, in terms of overcoming any difficulties the museums may be having, either with issues like planning permission or access and so on.
I would also hope that there would be financial support. I know that times are tough, but clearly these museums are very important to the local and regional economy. Quite a lot of the councils facing cuts do have extensive reserves. Mr Sutcliffe, just as you have talked about a north/south divide, I hope that councils would not see a divide between some of the very important work they do in areas like social care and important work in culture. I hope that culture is not always perceived as a second-class citizen and that these councils will recognise the importance of these cultural institutions.
Q6 Mr Sutcliffe: That leads me on to the work of this Committee in terms of the creative industries inquiry that we are undertaking at the moment and the impact that creative industries have on the economic life of the country. Isn’t there is an opportunity here for the three councils who are involved and others-and I can think of the Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield-to use that sector as a wealth creator and a job creator?
Mr Vaizey: I think that is right; for example, funding like the regional growth fund, which one traditionally thinks of as going to car factories or whatever. I do not see any reason why that should not go to support museums because museums can be characterised potentially as part of the industrial ecology of the city in which they are based. They provide jobs that are equally valid, and they attract inward economic investment, which is equally valid. I think, particularly when one talks about the Science Museum’s buildings and establishments outside London, you are talking about Manchester with its fantastic reputation for the creative industries, you are talking about Bradford as a city of film, you are talking York with its industrial heritage, but there are a lot of creative industries in and around York as well. They could become quite exciting hubs for those industries. I think it is important that museums in general have very porous borders and that people feel that they are not simply static collections of heritage objects, but they are institutions that are alive and engaged with the here and now and what is happening in the local economy.
Q7 Mr Sutcliffe: Finally from me, I just want you to reiterate what you said at that adjournment debate on 19 June; that you, as the Minister responsible, would act as a conduit to make sure that there are progressive talks between the variety of partners that need to get together to make sure we have a long-term, secure future for all three museums.
Mr Vaizey: Yes, I would like to reiterate that, Mr Sutcliffe. In fact, I have talked about little else but the Science Museum for the last three weeks, and every time I meet anyone who is involved in a technology industry I engage with them about the Science Museum. I am hoping, with you, Mr Sutcliffe, and your colleagues to have a meeting in Bradford with all potential stakeholders to look at what opportunities there are for the national museums.
Q8 Philip Davies: Can I start, Minister, by thanking you for your readiness to meet all the Bradford MPs at very short notice, which was a great credit to you and much appreciated, and also for your robust support for all of the three Science Museums in the north at that meeting, but also in the subsequent debate. I think we all appreciated how straightforward and robust you were. The Director of the Science Group was reported as saying that he would rather have three world-class museums than four mediocre ones. What is your response to that?
Mr Vaizey: My ambition is to have four world-class museums rather than three, and I think that there is a great opportunity now that we have achieved this settlement to ensure that that is the case and to work with the Science Museum Group. I know that you are hearing evidence from the Director of the Science Museum straight after me, so you can ask him to expand on his view on that. Lying underneath that, I think one should not shy away from the fact that we appoint very good people to run our national institutions and we expect them to make tough decisions, but I think now, given the settlement and also given the ground swell of support for museums, it is quite clear that we can particularly turn around Bradford and make a significant difference going forward.
Q9 Philip Davies: Do you see the four museums currently as world-class museums, or do you see any of them as mediocre ones?
Mr Vaizey: I see them all as world-class museums. I think if you look at the collections in each of the museums, which continue to be added to, you have an extraordinary asset. We in this country are unbelievably lucky, because of our history and heritage, to have collected these astounding pieces. We were at the forefront of the scientific revolution from the 17th century onwards. We have the oldest scientific institution in the world. We were at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution, so in Manchester you have that reflected at MOSI. We have been at the forefront of the development of television, and the recent addition of the 1,000 objects from the BBC archive is a very good example. There are very few countries in the world that could replicate that kind of collection. Then, of course, the Railway Museum; we are a nation of railway buffs. If you go and visit York, you will see the engines being maintained by groups of passionate volunteers. Again, our railway heritage competes with the world. We have from our forefathers this extraordinary gift of these collections, which we have not had to go out and acquire because our forefathers created it. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to show them off as best we can and to use these collections; as I say, not simply to look at the past and reflect on Britain’s great industrial heritage, but to use that extraordinary past to engage future generations.
Q10 Philip Davies: If we have four world-class museums, why do you think the visitor numbers at the National Media Museum have dropped so rapidly?
Mr Vaizey: I think this is the great challenge and one of the issues that happens when public spending is tight is it forces people to grasp nettles. The facts do send us a message, which is that the number of visitors going to Bradford has effectively halved, and that is in a time when Bradford’s National Media Museum had introduced free admission. We have to look very hard at the offer. I think that there are two elements to that and it is not really for me to get into too much detail, although obviously I am semi-expert now in this particular area, but it seems to me the IMAX, I think everyone is agreed, should be run as a commercial operation. It is a commercial cinema.
We need to ensure that the collection itself engages particularly with young people as much as possible, but again I come back to this point about partnership, and I think that it is not simply about asking people to write a cheque. It is about asking the city council, the university, the further education college and others to engage. I also think there is an important point here about fundraising. Although I was being obviously mildly facetious earlier when I talked about raising the Science Museum with every technology company I come across, I have done that, but the point is you don’t talk to these companies to say, "Will you write a cheque? Thank you very much. See you later". You say, "You are recruiting the people who are going to run these companies in the next 20 years. You are at the forefront of what you are doing, but also you are selling your product to the world. Let’s have some of that expertise so that we can engage people in what you are doing".
For example, take something like the Large Hadron Collider exhibition that is happening towards the end of the year. The Large Hadron Collider is one piece of big science where, broadly speaking, if you stopped 100 people on the street, you would get a significant sample who at least knew, broadly speaking, what you were talking about. There are these great opportunities to showcase science and technology.
Q11 Philip Davies: Would you say this choice between three world-class museums and four mediocre ones is a false choice, so that isn’t really the choice that is facing the Science Museum Group?
Mr Vaizey: Mr Davies, I was going to say a fulsome thank you to you for your very kind words at the beginning of your remarks, because I know how robust you are and therefore it means a lot to me, but I hope you will not take it amiss if I think you are inviting me to drive a wedge between myself and the excellent Director of the Science Museum. I will not take the bait. I will just simply say that I think the furore, as the Chairman put it, of the last three weeks has given all of us a wake-up call and an opportunity to find a way forward.
Q12 Philip Davies: The Director of the Group, since our very constructive meeting, has been quoted in the local papers as still, even after that meeting, saying no decisions have finally been taken, and there still is a threat to some of the museums. That was certainly not my understanding of the meeting we had, and I am sure Gerry would agree. What is your response to those comments still flowing from the Science Museum Group, even after the meeting that we had?
Mr Vaizey: I think both the Chairman and the Director, who you might be surprised to know I have met quite recently to discuss the National Media Museum and others, are very much of the view that they have been overwhelmed by the support not just of DCMS, but also of local MPs and the local community, and they are now actively working with us to ensure a great future for the National Media Museum. I think it is important to stress that, while we have secured the future of these museums, "no change" is not an option. The National Media Museum will have to change and that will involve a great deal of effort from very many stakeholders, but, as Mr Sutcliffe indicated by quoting my earlier remarks, I am very happy to be an integral part of that process.
Philip Davies: But just so that everybody is clear; while "no change" may not be an option, closure of any of these museums is not an option either?
Mr Vaizey: That is correct.
Q13 Philip Davies: Finally, the Government has made lots of commitments about the importance of science, particularly in the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. I just wanted to know what discussions you have had with that department as to whether or not they might be able to offer some support to the Science Museum Group in order to make good that commitment to protect the science budget and science generally across Government.
Mr Vaizey: I have had an informal chat with the Minister for Science, and I have written to him today to follow up on that conversation. I have no obsession with territory and I would welcome partners across my portfolio that can help make things better, and so I would welcome discussions with BIS to look at how they can work more closely with the Science Museum. It strikes me as plain as a pikestaff that BIS should be involved. The Science Museum, as you quite rightly point out, Mr Davies, has been protected because Britain has a world-class science base and the work that we do in science is going to contribute massively to the growth of the UK economy, but the great challenge in science is attracting young people to work in science and to work in technology.
As I said earlier, you have this unbelievable collection spread across the country. You have a golden opportunity, particularly in the north, in Manchester with its world-class university, and with Bradford and York, to engage a whole range of people and, with this footprint, you have an opportunity to engage the whole of the nation. I think if BIS is spending hundreds of millions on our science base, a few pennies that would take what David Willetts has himself said-I don’t know if he has said it in public, but he has certainly said it to me-he regards as the most valuable assets to engage young people in science, then it would seem sensible that BIS is involved in some kind of relationship with the Science Museum.
Q14 Philip Davies: What would you say to those people who think that the Science Museum Group would be better served under the auspices of BIS than DCMS?
Mr Vaizey: As I say, I only want the best for the Science Museum and for any other institutions that I represent. If I thought the future of the Science Museum would be better in BIS than it would be in DCMS, I would support that. What I would say though is I think that it would be odd to break up the portfolio of national museums. I think that we have again this sort of duality, if you like. You have 12 national museums that are looked after by DCMS and, if anything-particularly in a public spending environment that is very tough-the onus is on them to co-operate more, to share best practice, to see where they can make savings. Museum storage, for example, is a good issue where we are talking about where we can make significant savings and they have a lot in common, but that does not preclude them having a strong relationship with other Departments. For example, the National Gallery benefits, I am sure, hugely from having the Deputy Prime Minister as one of its ex officio trustees. It has a relationship with the Deputy Prime Minister’s office and I would certainly think a strong relationship with BIS would be of significant benefit to the Science Museum, and, as I say, I would be completely un-precious about the Director spending time with David Willetts.
Q15 Mr Leech: Philip and Gerry both mentioned visitor numbers and the fact that visitor numbers had gone down in Bradford, and in York visitor numbers had dipped but then increased. The big success story has been MOSI in Manchester, where visitor figures have gone from less than 300,000 when there was charging to over 800,000 now. Is there anything that Manchester is doing that perhaps Bradford and York could mimic or learn from, learning from the experience of how successful Manchester has been?
Mr Vaizey: It is a very good question, and I honestly don’t know the answer. I think that is something the Director of the Science Museum could probably give a more intelligent, thoughtful and knowledgeable response to, but my instinct is, dare I say it, having the partnership with the Science Museum has also contributed to the success of MOSI. That is again where I see several elements of a wider national museums policy. I think there are opportunities when you create conglomerates where you can make savings, so you can make a site more efficient, but there is also, as I think I said earlier, the opportunity to share best practice. Some of the people that the Science Museum may have brought into MOSI may have also contributed.
Again, this is pure speculation, which is why you should ask the Director for a more intelligent answer, but I wonder whether also the Science Museum brand helped drive visitors to MOSI as well. You have an opportunity to market it in London through the Science Museum in London but also people like the fact they are going to visit a national museum, even though MOSI has obviously been an incredibly important local and regional museum before its merger with the Science Museum.
Q16 Mr Leech: You have said, and I was delighted to hear, that you did not want to see charging at any of the museums. Clearly in Manchester the visitor figures have gone up dramatically since charging ended. Why is it your view that charging should not be introduced when, if you look at other museums, they have been successful with still charging?
Mr Vaizey: A lot of regional museums do not charge, and it has become almost the norm not to charge. For example, I think about the Ashmolean near my constituency. Most museums take the view that what they would characterise as their permanent collection should be open to the public. I think that is a good principle. It has almost become a tradition in this country that the permanent collections that have been built up over many centuries should be open to the public and accessible to the public, but of course national museums do charge in other ways. For example, if you get people through your door free of charge and they wander in they are more likely, to put it in very crude terms, then to buy a cup of coffee and a cake or spend something in the gift shop. So you can earn revenue that way. You preserve a very good principle, but you should never stand in the way of museums that look at imaginative ways of raising revenue. Of course, museums also charge for special exhibitions. You won’t get into Pompeii at the British Museum free of charge, although you will still have access to its permanent collection.
Q17 Mr Leech: The Visit Britain survey-I think it was 2009-suggested that a lot of foreign tourists come to the UK because there are a lot of free things that you can go and do in the UK. Has any assessment been done by the Department as to what impacts there would be on tourism figures if all the free things that people can get into suddenly started charging?
Mr Vaizey: No, as far as I am aware we haven’t made that assessment because it has never been an option to reintroduce charging for national museums. I certainly think that the Taking Part surveys we do indicate strongly that museums are a big driver of tourism, so we haven’t made an assessment of the impact of charging.
Mr Leech: But you recognise that it might affect tourist figures?
Mr Vaizey: I acknowledge the possibility that it could affect tourist figures, based on absolutely no evidence that I have available to me.
Q18 Mr Leech: A gut feeling. Commercial activities for the Science Museum Group are about 22% of its income, which is pretty much on a par with the take, which is 23%, and 19% for the Imperial War Museum. Do you know how those figures compare with other parts of your portfolio, museums, libraries, theatres, and what proportion of income they get from commercial activity?
Mr Vaizey: Mr Leech, I will probably have to write to you in detail, but my instinct is that, broadly speaking, the Science Museum is sort of mid-range. That is not meant to sound disapproving, but it is mid-range. I think some organisations like Tate are probably slightly higher in terms of proportion of grant and aid versus commercial income. No doubt the Director will correct me when he gives his evidence. I think some of the national performing arts institutions, such as the Royal Opera House, are very far advanced in terms of the mix of their commercial income against grant and aid. I think that it is as low as 20% but, again, I would have to check that figure; so, some of the big national performing arts, but I do not think the Royal Shakespeare Company has that same proportion.
I think the Science Museum is doing pretty well in terms of its opportunities to raise money both commercially and through finance, but that doesn’t mean that there are not huge opportunities. I think engaging technology companies in the work of the Science Museum is a massive opportunity. I also think the museum freedoms are sensible because I think that the Science Museum would be quite within their rights, and other museum directors would be quite within their rights, to say, "Well, you say we have to go out and raise all this money, but it costs money to raise money". If they are able to access capital or revenue in advance in order to make the investments to raise that money, then that is something we should support them on.
Q19 Mr Leech: Just following on from that answer, in terms of moving forward, is there any suggestion from the Department that perhaps more capital spending might be made available for the Science Museum Group for the medium to long-term future of the museums and their ability to generate more cash? Is there any suggestion that that money might be forthcoming?
Mr Vaizey: Capital is important, and we want to ensure that we get a good capital settlement for our national museums going forward. Clearly other opportunities for capital, for example money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, are independent of Government. We couldn’t simply just say to the Heritage Lottery Fund, "By the way, can you write this cheque to the Science Museum Group?" But clearly, if the Science Museum Group were to work either in Manchester or in Bradford to look at a reconfiguration of their estate in order to attract more visitors or put on better exhibitions, I am sure they are more than capable of putting in an appropriate application to-again, I will correct myself if I am wrong, but my instinct would be-someone like the Heritage Lottery Fund. Of course trusts and foundations and also again, to put it bluntly, large donors do like to contribute to capital projects because they have an air of permanency. It is much easier to ask someone to donate a seven-figure sum to a building than it is, say, to help fund the cloakroom.
Chair: Minister, I think you have exhausted the Committee.
Mr Vaizey: Thank you very much, Mr Chairman.
Witness: Ian Blatchford, Director, Science Museum Group, gave evidence.
Q20 Chair: For the next part of this morning’s session, can I welcome Ian Blatchford, the Director of the Science Museum Group, and invite Philip Davies to begin.
Philip Davies: Mr Blatchford, you said that you wanted to see three world-class museums in the group rather than four mediocre ones. Is that still your position?
Ian Blatchford: When I made that comment, what I was referring to was the scenario where the cuts were around 10%, not if the cuts were at a lower level, because where we are at the moment is we do certainly have four world-class museums. That comprises a number of things; not only the collections the Minister mentioned, but something else, and you don’t just have to take my word for it, you can also think about how those museums are perceived from outside these shores. For example, the Japanese worship the National Railway Museum. One of the major Russian museums is taking an exhibition from the Media Museum in Bradford, and also no one is any doubt about the industrial importance of the museum in Manchester.
On the three world-class versus four, I was making a very basic point about what would happen in a 10% scenario. If you saved money in that scenario by cutting across the board, you end up essentially degrading the offer at all the museums and in the tricky situation of beginning to lose a number of things. You lose visitors, you lose enthusiasm and, also, it can be pretty devastating from a fundraising point of view because-and it is very clear to me as I spend so much of my life fundraising-big trusts, major philanthropists and also companies only want to invest in success. The narrative, "Why don’t you save the museum?" appears quite strong, but in fact the real way of raising money is to say, "We are already world-class, why don’t you invest in us?"
Q21 Philip Davies: If your current budget allows you to have four world-class museums as you are claiming and that the loss of any funding may lead to a decline in visitor numbers and so on, how come we have had a decline in visitor numbers in Bradford with your current budget?
Ian Blatchford: In the case of Bradford, there are lots of factors at play and there is not one single one to point to. The first is issues with its environment. For example, in particular years there has been major redevelopment in the city centre, and, as we all know, when there are building works in the centre of a town, people tend to not go there, so that has certainly not been helpful. I think the other thing that was true when the museum had higher visitor numbers is that the IMAX was a novelty, and certainly both the IMAX in Bradford and also in London has experienced a big decline in that being the big pull.
The other thing that may have been a factor-opinion is a bit divided on this-is that before it was renamed, it was pretty clear to the visitor what was in the museum. I think National Media Museum, although it appears to be a neat title, is quite confusing because it doesn’t really tell you very much about the content of the museum. The other crucial thing to say about visitor numbers is that, as always with these things, it depends where you start, because in the discussions within the senior management team and the trustees about the future of the museum, one of things we have been clear about is that visitor numbers alone should not be a deciding factor. If you started from day one and said, "Here is a museum in Bradford, attracting 500,000 people", rather than think that was a problem, you would think, "Actually, that is a very respectable number by any benchmark, both nationally and also given tourism numbers in Yorkshire".
Q22 Philip Davies: If an outcome was conceivable to you that you could have three world-class museums in the group and not four museums in the group, which one of the museums did you think was dispensable?
Ian Blatchford: First of all, just picking up your word "conceivable", the view very much of the whole board from day one has been that we wanted all the museums to stay open. But in terms of what museum might need the greatest attention, the greatest attention was really focused on the museum in Bradford, and the reason was one of strategy, because it is now crystal clear is that the priority for the science agenda is paramount in our minds. When the Media Museum first opened, it was very clear that, although it has these great technology collections, they were collected for scientific and technology reasons, not necessarily to tell an art story. We did take action early by changing the management structures there, so we had people with a stronger science focus. What has also been very striking in our conversations with the local authority is that our concern about getting back to a stronger technology and science agenda in the museum is very much on the same page as them.
Philip Davies: When you said that one of the three northern museums in the group might be under threat, you were talking about the National Media Museum in Bradford?
Ian Blatchford: I wouldn’t have put it that starkly.
Philip Davies: That is what you seem to have just said.
Ian Blatchford: Yes. Let me explain. The conversations that I had with, for example, the leader and chief executive of Bradford were as follows: in a scenario where the cuts were not significant, we would have both the time and the money to reshape the museum so it had a stronger technology focus, and indeed we discussed a number of very exciting plans for increasing audience numbers. In the 10% scenario, the cuts would be so significant that we would not have the time and the money to achieve that, and, therefore, there was a real threat that the museum would not be sustainable.
Q23 Philip Davies: I am pleased you mentioned your discussions with Bradford council because at the meeting that we had with the Minister, which I am sure you recall, you said that the reason why you had not approached the MPs in Bradford beforehand about the issues was because you had been told by Bradford council not to approach the local MPs. I just wondered if you could tell us who it was that told you not to approach the local MPs in Bradford.
Ian Blatchford: I think what I may have said in that meeting I probably put rather clumsily. What I was really trying to-
Philip Davies: You were very clear, if you don’t mind me saying so. You did not put it clumsily at all. You might regret saying it, but you certainly did not put it clumsily.
Ian Blatchford: The thing about Bradford, which is also true of York and Manchester, is clearly, on a day-to-day basis, our primary relationship is with the local authority, particularly, of course, bearing in mind that in Bradford we sit in one of their buildings; so we are, in a sense, one of their tenants. Also, the chief executive of the local authority sits on our advisory board and we talk to them a lot. What I was trying to convey in that conversation was that, given how sensitive the issue was about what would happen to the museum, either the reshaping of the museum or indeed the threat of it not staying open, we were very keen to keep a very tight circle of who we could speak to. What the local authority said to me was, "We prefer the local authority to talk to our MPs first", because we don’t particularly have a relationship with the local MPs and it would seem more appropriate for the local authority to meet them first. Although it may have come across as we were banned, it is simply that we were showing courtesy to the local authority to let them speak first.
Q24 Philip Davies: To be fair, that isn’t what you said at the meeting. It was very clear. Quite specifically at the meeting, when asked why you had not approached the local MPs in Bradford, you said that you specifically had been requested by the local authority not to do so. I just wanted to know-it is a fairly straightforward question-who was it at the local authority that told you not to contact the local MPs in Bradford?
Ian Blatchford: The person I was talking to most at the local authority was the chief executive, and I am sure he will be able to address that later, but his request was not put as starkly as I accidentally put it. His request was, "It would be helpful if we could speak to them first".
Q25 Philip Davies: What do you say to people who claim that your threat to the National Media Museum, as it turns out as opposed to one of the northern museums, was just a piece of negotiation; that you were never going to close the National Media Museum down and that you knew that it would be deemed unacceptable, but it was just your way of trying to get a better settlement from the Government?
Ian Blatchford: I would say that it definitely wasn’t fake, and we would not dream of making such a statement if we were not sincere about following it through. If I can just briefly talk about the chronology, because I think it is quite important to explain that our starting position was not to have some great national campaign. I say that not least because obviously there has been a lot of focus on the anxiety caused to people who live in those cities, but also, looked at from my point of view, there is another group of people who obviously have been deeply affected, the staff who work in those museums, and another important group of people who get forgotten in this dialogue, the volunteers, who are absolutely crucial.
When I had my meeting with the Minister, our whole conversation was on what we planned to do in order to reshape Bradford, and we agreed at that meeting that that was going to be a successful venture if the funding settlement wasn’t too dramatically bad. Indeed, our hope at that stage was to be very discreet about the whole thing, precisely because we did not want speculation. Unfortunately, our hand was forced because at a meeting between us, the northern cities and the museums, we discussed scenarios that included what would happen in the rather difficult event of a 10% cut and that meeting was leaked. Also, let me be unbelievably, supersonically clear that it was not us who leaked that because certainly, for the past month, the time we could have spent on looking at the Bradford solution and also raising money has clearly not been possible.
Our problem was that we had a very major press conference coming up shortly afterwards with all the heavy-hitting organisations of the science world, and it became very clear to us, both from the coverage in the local Bradford press but also in the Manchester Evening News, that we had quite a serious problem: could we, in other words, close down the story and just get it to go away? The story was building and building. The story was becoming not so much that there was one museum that might close, but there were three museums. We took the view, based on a lot of press advice, that in the end the simplest and most straightforward approach was simply to say that one museum was under threat. It wasn’t where we started, but we felt there was no way we could close down the story and, in fact, if we attempted to do so, it would increase speculation.
Philip Davies: Do you know where that leak came from?
Ian Blatchford: It depends what you mean by "know". The answer is no, I don’t know, but I can speculate.
Philip Davies: Do you have any suspicions? Who do you suspect? If you were pricing it up as a bookmaker, who would be favourite for being responsible for this leak?
Ian Blatchford: I would rather not have a game of Cluedo about who it was in the library with the candlestick.
Philip Davies: We quite like it.
Ian Blatchford: I know, but I have to look to my long-term relationships with all the people we work with, and I am sure whoever leaked it probably, with hindsight, rather regrets doing so.
Philip Davies: But you have your suspicions, would it be fair to say?
Ian Blatchford: Of course I have my suspicions.
Q26 Philip Davies: If you had gone through with this threat to close the National Media Museum, when would you have envisaged it closing?
Ian Blatchford: In a scenario where the cuts had been dramatic, the one thing we said we wouldn’t have done is rush to action. because clearly such a thing would have been terrible in so many ways. The real impact of a 10% cut would have been in 2015-16, and, although that seems quite some way off, of course planning for that involves planning now. We would have explored a whole range of options with the local authority and also with the Minister before we would have made some trite or simple decision about closure.
Q27 Philip Davies: If the threat was so real, why was it that one week before this broke you spent £120,000 on a facelift for the café at Pictureville?
Ian Blatchford: There were good reasons for that, because it was part of a bigger refurbishment project in terms of catering across a number of our museum sites. It wasn’t just one project; it was part of a bigger deal. Also, I remember vividly having a conversation with both the head of my trading company and also the director of the National Media Museum about whether we should proceed, and we took the view that we should proceed, because not to do so in a way would fulfil a prophecy about doom for the museum. You could end up saying, "Well, catering is not making much money, and income-generating at Bradford isn’t very good".
Also we were deeply concerned about something that is intangible but a very potent factor, which is that the impact on the staff in the museum would be pretty devastating, because this is something that has been promised for a long time. To suddenly say, "Oh, for various reasons", whatever bureaucratic language one uses, "it is not going to happen", I do not think would convince a single member of staff that that was a good move. I think in a scenario where there had been a poor settlement, obviously we would have looked to get out of that contract in a way that was commercially sensible. We were balancing a number of rather different factors, but our view overall was that we did want to believe that we could make the museum succeed in Bradford rather than endlessly postpone projects.
Q28 Philip Davies: You agreed the contract with Compass until 2018, so that doesn’t ring true that you were thinking about closing in 2015.
Ian Blatchford: I don’t see any conflict between those two things. I think I have already explained the threat to the museum in a 10% scenario was very real, but also you have to make decisions hoping that you will find a way forward. I think that our chances of finding a way forward would be much lessened had we decided not to proceed with the contract, because the goodwill and morale of staff would have been so weakened by that one decision that you would have to pick them up in order to have a dialogue about the future of the museum.
Q29 Philip Davies: Finally, everybody heard today in public the robustness of the Minister’s response about the future of the National Media Museum, the same robustness that we heard in private at our meeting. Would you like to now take this opportunity to make it abundantly clear to everybody that the National Media Museum will not be closing and its future is secure?
Ian Blatchford: I would be delighted to do so and also, if I may, explain why it has taken us so long to say that because I think some people, particularly in those local communities, might have thought we were deliberately tormenting them. I will start with that, because I am afraid it is a rather tedious thing to have to go through, but it is rather important. The crucial thing from the point of view of the trustees of the Science Museum was that when we said something, it was definitive, and the worst possible outcome would be to say something and then two weeks later say, "Oh, by the way, we have discovered that we do not have any capital funding", or there is some other problem with the funding arrangements that meant that a promise made couldn’t be sustained, which would be clearly a disaster for everyone.
The stages in our mind were, first of all, my chairman and I went to see the Minister to clarify the meaning of his comments, in civil service speak, but the serious point that is very productive from that meeting-and the Minister has already mentioned it-is the idea that he will be pursuing a number of avenues for funding. I think if those come off it would be a significant breakthrough, not only in terms of the Science Museum Group but also in a way of doing business. That was on Wednesday last week. On Thursday we had a board of trustees, and clearly they, we should all remember, are legally responsible for all the museums and ultimately they have the decisions. Then we were waiting both on Friday and also Monday for verbal reassurances about the level of our revenue and capital funding, and although the revenue funding was very much in the public domain, the capital wasn’t. Although we do not know the precise number, we had been given very strong indications that it was a level that is rather welcome.
The answer to your question is, because of all of that now happening and the Minister’s clear commitment publicly that the museums do not need to close, I can say that the museums are not shutting. The way I would put it, in a way that will mean a lot to local communities, is that in quite a lot of national press and regional press, after the Minister’s previous statements in the following week, it all said that the museums are "saved", and the "saved" was in quotation marks. The message this morning is, "Take the quotation marks off".
Q30 Mr Sutcliffe: Thanks very much for that reassurance, which I am sure will go down well in the three cities affected. I just want to dwell on the past a little bit and then talk about the future in terms of what we need to do. I asked the Minister about your meeting on the 23rd where you discussed just the National Media Museum and not the other two museums, and that is because you felt that Bradford had the most difficulty perhaps. Is that true?
Ian Blatchford: That is fair, yes. It was because we felt-"we", by the way, being the board of trustees-that, given the strategic priorities, the issue with the National Media Museum was that there wasn’t enough science; that simple.
Q31 Mr Sutcliffe: Were you surprised then that this campaign came about from the northern alliance between Bradford, Manchester and York and that those three authorities were gaining support from everywhere against this attack from the south on the northern territories?
Ian Blatchford: I think one of the things that has been extraordinary over the past few weeks is that, while it has been a period of great anxiety for everyone, it has also been a period of extraordinary opportunity because so many things have happened. One of the things that has slightly taken our breath away is that obviously museum people always say that their museums are valued by their local communities. I don’t think anyone can be in any doubt that what we say, rather smugly, is profoundly true.
On the issue of the northern alliance as you call it, I was-rightly-berated by one of the chief executives the other day because I had got into the habit of calling it that, and they said, "It is you who is making it a north/south thing, not me". What they meant was that coming through this difficult spending round you will end up with four fantastic museums who work as a group. Each part of the group needs to play a particular part and also decide who gets priorities in terms of particular exhibitions and particular capital funding. You could ask, and I think it would be a very fair criticism, why we did not get around to doing that before. With hindsight, it is extraordinary that we have not met in that way before.
Q32 Mr Sutcliffe: Mr Blatchford, you talked about the management structure changes. When was that?
Ian Blatchford: You mean the National Media Museum?
Mr Sutcliffe: Yes.
Ian Blatchford: The previous arrangement was that the previous director who reported straight to me left in March 2012, I think it must have been. Then for a period the museum was managed by my deputy, Heather Mayfield, who is deputy director of the Science Museum. The reason for that was twofold. One is because she was very much part of the team who founded it and is devoted to it-and if anyone wants to know who is a great champion of the museum’s interests in London, it is certainly her-but also because she has enormous experience of the science agenda. Her remit from me was very much to look at how Bradford could change pace in terms of the science exhibitions and particularly the education side.
Q33 Mr Sutcliffe: In March 2012 the management structure had changed. You then are dealing with the cuts from the previous settlement that you had to deal with and then you get notification of the potential cuts of 5%, 10%, 15%. What discussions did you have with the local authority in Bradford, and at what time, about the potential?
Ian Blatchford: First, when we made the change in management structure, although this may seem rather obscure to people not involved, both the local MPs will completely understand that this was quite a tricky moment, because it was seen as some strange conspiracy, and I think for very understandable reasons. We had a lot of conversations with the local authority to assure them that in fact, rather than secretly slowly poisoning the museum, we were doing something with the opposite intention.
Q34 Mr Sutcliffe: Could I just stop you there, because there is a feeling in Bradford and has been over many years that when we attracted the National Media Museum in the 1980s the Science Museum Group in London were not very happy about that. There has been a potential management of decline over many years in an attempt to get the museum back to London. The challenge goes from some of us that this has been a managed decline to get things back, reinforced by the Media Space that is going to open in London in September, which will showcase the national photography collection held by the National Media Museum. That reinforced this view that it was all about managed decline. Can you just comment on those issues?
Ian Blatchford: I think those are understandable perceptions. To do something very strange and go back a long way in time, if you were to talk to Dame Margaret Weston, who is still around and whose idea very much the project was, and Colin Ford who was the first director, they would probably say that there was a great deal of what one might call metropolitan resistance to the idea. There are also particular issues that the museum still has to deal with because, in addition to working for the people of Bradford, there are other stakeholders, like the photography community, who obviously are particularly anxious about having the best possible access.
The thing that is very difficult about the Media Space project is that-it wasn’t agreed under my directorship; long before me, but obviously I know all the people involved-it was done with the sincerest of intentions, but has been misinterpreted. What I mean by that is that it was intended to be a showcase for the National Media Museum, both showing the amazing collections but also reminding people what was in Bradford and getting them to go there. Now, it won’t open until September, but I am-and I am sure that the local authority would say they are as well-optimistic that that objective will be achieved.
On your question about managed decline, if we felt that the museum needed to sort of ebb away, we would not have done what we did last year, which is make the management changes, because if you wanted the museum to fail, all you needed to do was do nothing. In fact putting in, first of all, Heather, but also Jo Quinton-Tulloch, who is now the director and who is one of the brightest stars in the group, is a sign of faith in Bradford, not absence of commitment.
Q35 Mr Sutcliffe: Just on interesting facts and figures, I was looking at the audience for the science museums and the various museums, and the overseas visitor figures are quite stark. I mean, obviously one accepts 1.1 million people coming through the doors in London, but then you have 40,000 overseas visitors in Manchester, 51,000 overseas visitors in York and in Bradford just 8,000. Looking to the future and looking forward now, what would you like to see happen in terms of how we revitalise the museum, the partnerships that we need to get into and the people that we need to be working with? How would you like to see it go forward?
Ian Blatchford: Well, that is a very good challenge. Yes, those numbers are quite striking, because it does seem perplexing that the numbers should be so low. One of the key things about going forward, for example, with the local authority is working much harder on the tourism agenda, and in some cities that is easier than others. For example, we have a very strong tourism relationship with York and also increasingly with Manchester. I think that, because of all the changes that have gone on at the National Media Museum, it would be very easy for me to say, "Well, the local authority should do more", but, in fact, the reality is that we should have done considerably more much earlier to work with them.
There are lots of fascinating opportunities in Bradford; the classic example is City Park. If you watched the Bollywood Carmen-I didn’t see it live, but I saw it on television-it was a fantastic opportunity to brand the city. I also think that one of the real incredibly strong links between the city’s interest and indeed the museum’s interest has been UNESCO City of Film, and still I meet the most amazing number of people all over England-and, by the way, many of them in the north of England-who know nothing about it.
On the tourism agenda, I think we should also remember that it is not just about overseas tourists, it is also about domestic tourism as well, and one of the rather visionary ideas emerging from the discussion between the three northern cities is that we can talk a lot about the north and south, but also you do want a situation where people in York and Manchester also know about what is in the Science Museum and also visit Bradford.
Q36 Mr Sutcliffe: Just moving on to the science agenda, clearly there are changes at Bradford University: a new vice-chancellor, the private sector, and lots of technology companies in Bradford and the surrounding districts. Do you see that as an opportunity now to get the science agenda improved in the offer that the museum puts forward?
Ian Blatchford: I think it is vital, because one of the things that we have successfully achieved as an advocacy and fundraising plank in Manchester is the idea that we are the city’s showcase for technology. For example, in Manchester, the Science Museum is opening in July a wonderful exhibition called Brains, which is based on the show that was at the Wellcome Trust, but in fact has been greatly amplified by contributions from Manchester University; so it is fantastic example of a link.
In terms of Bradford, I have said publicly that I am particularly delighted by Brian Cantor coming as Vice-Chancellor, because I know him very well from my existing job. I think that he will completely get the opportunity for us to be that showcase because, with the best will in the world, although universities do a great deal of outreach, going on to a university campus as a member of the public feels a less accessible experience than walking into a free national museum. I think there are huge opportunities.
Also, let’s not forget Bradford College as well, because there are some great film courses in Bradford, and, even though we do have a good link with them, the challenge going forward is to find spaces and programmes that make that even more visible.
Mr Sutcliffe: One of the things that I want to see in the city is that cultural strapline with the heritage we have in Haworth with the Brontes, J B Priestley in Bradford, Delius-there is a whole host of people that we could talk about-it is an opportunity for the district to set its stall out as a city of culture.
Q37 Mr Leech: The accounts of the group don’t show which parts of the group are more successful at generating additional income. Which parts are successful, and are there any lessons to be learnt from the less successful parts of the operation?
Ian Blatchford: There are several ways of answering that. What we do obviously analyse in some detail every year is where money is being spent and where money is coming in and we have a rather helpful measure-it is not definitive, but certainly a good benchmark-which is looking at the net cost of each museum, i.e. the cost of running it minus the income it generates directly. That sets out some rather interesting challenges going forward, especially with the spending review.
What we do, by the way, is compare that net number with the actual audience that they are reaching to give us a rough guide to value for money in terms of who is succeeding. By far and away the best performer on that measure is MOSI, and that does not surprise us because MOSI came into the group with quite limited funding and it has always delivered a huge amount for not much money. The Science Museum also does very well. At the other end of the scale, there are issues with the National Media Museum because its costs are pretty high and its income streams are pretty low; for example, it is probably 20%, 30% more expensive in terms of reaching the public.
In terms of what we can do about that though, I think there are two things to say. One is a general point about fundraising and the other is about the National Media Museum. One of the things that you may have seen in some of the statements made both by the Minister and also by me is that we are very keen to explore commercial partnerships, particularly with the cinema world, in the museum because, although we run a cinema operation there and it is clearly vital as part of the UNESCO City of Film, we do think there are some lessons we can learn from commercial providers in terms of marketing and income-generating.
On a bigger issue, something we are acutely aware of, given all the sites we operate in, is the overwhelming dominance of London in terms of philanthropy. It is incredibly striking, and you may have seen some of the recent DCMS reports on that. The way we approach that is to take a group approach. We certainly do not take the approach that what is raised in London stays in London; definitely not. Every two or three years we sit down with all the museums, and we look at who has the greatest investment need in terms of either programming or capital expenditure and then basically set priorities in terms of who is going to get the money.
Q38 Mr Leech: Effectively, because more charitable money can be raised in London, that helps to subsidise the others in the north?
Ian Blatchford: To some degree, although we want to move away from that because it is very clear that if you have a museum, no matter where it is located, with a very strong programme and a very strong vision you will still raise the money. Clearly, one of the things that has made our life more complicated-and this is just a factual statement rather than making a comment on policy-is that when RDAs existed, not so long ago, it was easier to have a bedrock to do capital schemes; if you look at the Revolution Manchester scheme, for example, at MOSI, or if you look at many of the capital schemes at the National Media Museum. Then it was very easy to have a bedrock and then match it with the funding.
We are also pushing this a bit harder because my development director, who is Yorkshire born and bred, is very keen to make sure that the northern museums really do well on the fundraising. For example, with the Powerhouse fundraising in London, we now have a very close sense of all the major foundations and philanthropists, and we are going to impose on ourselves a clear discipline that, in some of those cases, we will not ask for money for London. We will actively prioritise our grant applications so that the northern museums get a share.
I am sorry this is such a long answer, but I feel very strongly about this. One of the things that we hoped would happen when the Museum Group had enough critical mass when MOSI joined is that we would have a new narrative to go to major companies. One of the things that has been very interesting about our current campaign-to raise money for an exhibition about careers in engineering-is that we are saying to the companies who are supporting it, "This exhibition will be in London and one of our northern museums". What we are discovering is that, rather than that being a hard sell, companies are falling over themselves. It is quite easy to see the classic trap where all company head offices tend to be in London, or even if they have major operations outside London, decision-making is still in one place. Our experience over the past year is that the corporate sector is very, very conscious of that risk, and we want to be among the people who pioneer a new approach.
Q39 Mr Leech: You said that when Manchester came into the group, historically it had not had the sort of levels of funding that others have; so it has provided more for less. What things was it doing differently to be able to provide more for less?
Ian Blatchford: It was, first of all, running a very commercial exhibition programme. While that would appear to be a good thing, it became very clear to us when we spoke to all the political, business and cultural leaders in Manchester at the time of the merger that it was not winning many hearts and minds. That is quite an interesting point to make. The thing that is very striking about all the local authorities we talk to is that they want us to add educational value to their schools and colleges. They want us to be part of a narrative where everyone wants young people who are doing maths and physics and chemistry and biology to do much better. The other thing I should also say about it is that it was risky. For example, the last exhibition that the museum did before we took over was the Art of Harley-Davidson. "Why?" was the reaction of everyone we spoke to in Manchester, because not only was it a very strange exhibition but also commercially not very successful.
The other area in which it was running on a shoestring was in maintaining the building. Although it had a major capital scheme recently, you will know if you walk through the site that the actual old railway station itself certainly needs investment, and the Air and Space Hall seriously needs investment. It was sort of getting by and the thing that was very revealing during the merger discussions is that, at a time when all the other national museums had active plans for how they would cope with minus 15%, MOSI had none. Although it may seem a bit cheeky to portray us as kind of a white knight riding to the rescue, I think to some degree that was true at that moment; their model of getting by was on the brink of no longer being viable.
Q40 Mr Leech: There has been some concern raised that the work on the Ordsall Chord has an impact on access to the station. Has that issue been resolved, and, if it is not resolved, what impact will that have on MOSI?
Ian Blatchford: First of all, it hasn’t been resolved, and is very much a live issue. Not everyone will necessary know what the issue is, but it is rather crucial because what potentially would happen as part of major railway developments in the Manchester area in order to improve rail travel and commuting in that part of the world is that the museum would lose its connection to the main railway line, and clearly that is of concern to the museum for a number of reasons. First of all, given it is the world’s first railway passenger station, just on an emotional and symbolic level it feels tricky not to have that link. It is also difficult because we run railway rides that use that line and also, in the longer term, we had quite a big plan at the point of merger to have a wonderful relationship between Manchester and the National Railway Museum, which of course has such a great collection.
At the moment, we are having two conversations. One is obviously with Network Rail to see whether there are any alternatives and the second is to see, if it proves to be impossible to find one, whether there is some kind of compensation for the very significant impact on the museum. I should say obviously we are doing that in consultation with the local authority, because we do not want to do something that is right for the museum and wrong for the people of Manchester.
Q41 Mr Leech: You mentioned earlier about the museum in Bradford being in a council building, and my understanding is that given where the Tate Museums are located, local authorities do give them a small amount of grant funding. What sort of support do you get from the local authorities where the national museums are located?
Ian Blatchford: It comes in many different guises. One of them is not a large bag of gold coins, but being un-facetious for a second, they do a great deal for us. For example, Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester council, sits on the board of MOSI, the chief executive of Bradford council sits on the board there, and the tourism chief for York sits on the board there; so they do a great deal in terms of giving us connections. They also provide funding for particular events, particularly festivals. There is also the big link that I mentioned earlier on tourism.
The other thing that a great relationship with the local authority does is provide you with enormous opportunities in terms of introducing you to other people in the area, particularly if there are capital schemes involved. For example, while the site next to the museum in Manchester is now being redeveloped, the old Granada site, it has been hugely encouraging that both the purchasers, but particularly the council, definitely keep our best interests at heart.
There is one local authority that does give us bags of gold coins, which is Durham. It is very easy to forget in this scenario that one of the great gems of the Science Museum Group is Locomotion at Shildon where we have a co-funding partnership with the local authority, which is at present surviving the difficult times. I suppose, going forward, clearly we will talk to all local authorities about what more they might do for us and, in particular, we are having a dialogue with the council in Bradford about how we might work together to reshape the museum. But I am very cautious about saying too much about that for two reasons. One is because it is not my money, and it is always very easy giving evidence to spend someone else’s money, but the more serious point is that they are still absorbing their own public spending round news, and I do not think they will be in a position to come to a view for some time.
Q42 Mr Leech: You say Durham financially supports Shildon. I see the visitor numbers at Shildon have gone up very significantly from 2008-09 to 2011-12. Is there any particular reason for that?
Ian Blatchford: I think it is a combination of word of mouth and some very clever programming. The thing that is very striking-
Mr Leech: It is not the gold coins from Durham?
Ian Blatchford: The gold coins from Durham help us do a number of things. First of all, it is well marketed. Secondly, it has built up enormous loyalty in the local community. The thing that will not necessarily be obvious and I should explain is that it is run curatorially and managerially out of the National Railway Museum in York, so it is part of the National Railway Museum but there happens to be part of it in Shildon. When Steve Davies was the director he had the brilliant idea-it was hugely controversial-of having loans of major iconic locomotives from York to Shildon. If you look at the figures for those sorts of heritage festivals, it transformed the visitor numbers and huge crowds were turning up there on a regular basis, not only to see the individual event but also to see iconic locomotives when they were on loan for a period. Amazing to think it was controversial, but I think it transformed people’s perception of Shildon.
Q43 Mr Leech: In terms of the real crux of the problem with funding, how much of it is to do with capital spend and how much is to do with revenue?
Ian Blatchford: On the issue of the mix, just to give you an idea of scale and then explain why it is an issue, at the moment our grant is about £37 million a year on revenue funding and £2.5 million on capital. I think, from the outside world looking in, you might have thought that the fact that we did not want to say anything publicly until we knew roughly what our capital funding was would seem a little bit kind of prissy and strange, given that it is only £2.5 million compared to £37 million. In fact the number matters profoundly for two reasons. One is because the estate is enormous if you think of the number of listed buildings we have, and it is not just the museums. We also share a huge site in Olympia for storage of national collections and a huge site in Wiltshire where the large objects are kept.
Also, so much of the capital funding is spent on things that are deeply unglamorous but profoundly important: lifts, fire systems, lavatories, IT systems. What that means is that we probably spend in any year more than £2.5 million on capital because we are also trying to do feasibility work on the master plans that we have agreed-for example, at the museums in Manchester and York-to develop the museum, because in order to raise private-sector money you have to spend some money yourself to have plausible plans you can go out into the market with.
Q44 Mr Leech: How much of a problem is it that MOSI is a listed building?
Ian Blatchford: In the short term it has not been a problem because we did a very thorough survey of the building before we agreed to the merger. Not surprisingly, the board of trustees were very concerned that we did not take over a building and then discover that one half of it was about to fall down. One of the great things, of course, about the era in which those buildings were built is they were built incredibly well, and when a previous regime restored the building they also did a very good job. With the exception maybe of the Air and Space Hall, which really does need some attention, the rest of the site for the time being is in a good state. The issue though is not about the fabric there. It is about the quality of some of the galleries that, as I am sure you know, particularly at the end of the site are very dated indeed.
Q45 Chair: In your ambitions set out in your annual review you say, "The group must push its audiences harder, so we are ditching the science-lite special exhibitions of the past decade to focus on real science". As I am looking at the visitor numbers, MOSI had an exceptionally good year in 2008-09, which we are told was as a result of hosting the Doctor Who exhibition that year. Therefore, is it not the case that the science-lite exhibitions might be the ones that attract the visitors?
Ian Blatchford: The answer is that, first of all, it is a very mixed bag. If you look back over all the museums when they have done those exhibitions, it is a great trap to assume you know what will be commercially successful. For example, if you looked at the 10 years before I arrived at the Science Museum, when it was doing very much commercially based exhibitions, it was very striking that many of these supposedly commercial exhibitions received very poor audiences and also did not make any money, in fact lost some. The other big picture is that, if you have the courage of your convictions in terms of content, it is better to go for long-term serious programming rather than something that brings you short-term gain. The thing that was very striking, talking to people in Manchester about the kind of exhibitions you have just quoted, and also talking to the wider science community about the kind of exhibitions that the Science Museum was doing in London, is that slowly but surely it was eating away at our credibility with the science community because they said, "Well, okay, so it is bringing in an audience, but they are not learning very much science".
I can give you a rather surprising example of something, strangely enough, relevant to Manchester. This year in the Science Museum we have had an exhibition on celebrating the centenary of Alan Turing. Alan Turing, of course, famously worked in Manchester, but the exhibition happens to be in London. The point about it is that it is quite a challenging exhibition. You are dealing with mathematics and very early theoretical computing, but we think by the time the exhibition closes it will have been seen by over 900,000 people. Our view is that, although it is very tempting to go for quick fixes and go for particularly popular exhibitions, there is no real conflict between quality and audience numbers as long as you follow an exhibition approach consistently and just do not go for one-offs.
Q46 Chair: The Minister talked about the Large Hadron Collider exhibition, which I am sure will be fascinating, but it may not bring in quite so many people as the James Bond exhibition that was held in the Science Museum not that long ago.
Ian Blatchford: My view of programming is the same view that I used to take when I was deputy director of the V and A, where you have to take a three or four-year view of your portfolio. Some of those you know will be very popular and some of them you know will be very niche, but you are doing it in order to be credible. For example, with the Large Hadron Collider exhibition, we are budgeting for no more than 40,000 or 50,000 people, and what matters is that every physics teacher in the country comes. I think it may be more popular, but it is the first time we have taken this approach.
The year after that, we are doing an exhibition about the Russian version of the space race, where I expect queues all the way down to the tube station, and after that we are doing an exhibition on robots. Robots, by the way, are a very good example of the kind of programming that is very popular and high-quality that you can do in London and you can also do in Bradford and Manchester. If I may just briefly go back to Bradford-looking here at Mr Sutcliffe and Mr Davis-one of the key things we need to do at the National Media Museum is to restore what used to be there, which is a wonderful temporary exhibition space, because at the moment it is missing out on some fabulous high-quality exhibitions, not only generated by the museum in London but indeed internationally.
Q47 Chair: We are presumably still looking at a combination of the more popular with the perhaps more academic, so it is not goodbye to Doctor Who altogether?
Ian Blatchford: Not at all.
Chair: Good. I am greatly reassured.
Ian Blatchford: I note a strong plea to make sure. My point is Doctor Who is fine, but it cannot be all you do. That is all I am saying.
Q48 Mr Leech: I just wanted to come back. You made the point about the need for some investment in the aerospace/aviation section at MOSI. Has the group been in any discussions with the aviation industry, whether it be airports or airlines, about the possibility of sponsorship? I just think of the example of Etihad Airways, who pumped in rather a lot of money to a certain football club in Manchester, reportedly up to £400 million over 10 years to sponsor the stadium, the naming rights of the stadium. Have there been any discussions within the industry about sponsorship?
Ian Blatchford: I think the honest answer is not really. We have had one conversation with Manchester Airport, but that was very much an initial conversation to introduce ourselves. Given that we have only been in the new regime for little over a year, our main priority has been to form our priorities and plans. One of the things that I slightly have joked about with colleagues is that we have been taking names. What I mean by that is, given that so many people have said how important the museums are in all those communities, we have noted who they are and I can assure you that once the smoke has cleared in the existing scenario we are certainly going to look very actively at all key players in all those cities to look for funding. But the answer to your question is not really. We have just had one conversation to date.
Mr Leech: But this is the sort of thing that you are looking at?
Ian Blatchford: Absolutely. I should also say that, of course, many important companies in your part of the world do already give us support. There is a very major operation for Siemens in your part of the world, and we have a very good relationship with them and they have been a longstanding generous supporter of the Science Festival. It is certainly not the case that we have not had support from industry in Manchester. We have had very good support, but I think the challenge now is to see if we can increase the investment and, in the case of the airport, perhaps obtain some support for the first time.
Q49 Mr Leech: I did ask a question of the Minister in relation to the proportion of income from commercial activities and how that compared with the rest of the DCMS brief, libraries and theatres and things like that. Do you think that there is scope for an increased proportion of revenue coming from commercial activity?
Ian Blatchford: I think there is, for a number of reasons. The first is that something that would appear to the average person in the street rather obscure, but to us is incredibly significant, is part of the detail of the spending settlement, which is the idea of these new freedoms. One freedom in particular to include-this is something that I cannot do, which is particularly annoying compared to my colleagues at the science museums in America there-which is very simple, is borrow money. The reason that matters is that the number of times my colleagues have come to see me with rather brilliant ideas about how we can increase audience numbers and income, particularly in the northern museums-for example, "London has Launchpad, an insanely popular part of the museum. Would it not be wonderful if you had such a thing in Bradford, and in Manchester?"-but the upfront investment is daunting and we do not have the ability to borrow. So that is a major thing.
The other thing that seems an even more obscure point but has been hugely significant is the encouragement for the national museums to form foundations. One of the things that has been lurking as a powerful disincentive for years is the idea that if you did succeed in raising lots of money the Treasury would think, "Very well done, and I think I will have some of that back". Even though that might appear paranoid, these things do happen. Now that we have independent foundations raising money actively that helps enormously.
In terms of the question you asked earlier, I might take issue with the Minister describing us as middle-ranking. I do not think that is quite how we see ourselves, and this is a serious point. For example, we say in our written evidence that if you look at all the income coming into the group the ratio is roughly 60% Government and 40% private. He is right that I would say that the leader in this sector is the Tate, and certainly when I last looked at it they are much nearer the 50/50 ratio. Clearly we would love to increase our income. Just to remind you, we have over the past five years tripled our private-sector income. So we are starting from a pretty strong base.
Also, I think there is a bigger point I would make. No national museum wants to just be a subsidy junkie if it can also find other sources of income. In all our minds we are on a path here, which is that we know our funding settlement until 2016 but, whoever is the next Government, we are not expecting lavish amounts of public funding to pour into our coffers. We need to fundamentally realign our business model and be more nimble financially.
Chair: I think that is all we have. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Tony Reeves, Chief Executive, City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Kersten England, Chief Executive, City of York Council, and Vicky Rosin, Deputy Chief Executive, Manchester City Council, gave evidence.
Q50 Chair: For our final part of this morning’s session can I welcome Tony Reeves, the Chief Executive of Bradford District Council; Kersten England, the Chief Executive, City of York Council; and Vicky Rosin, the Deputy Chief Executive of Manchester City Council. Perhaps you would just begin by each of you giving a general view of how important the local branch of the Science Museum Group is to the city that you represent?
Tony Reeves: The Media Museum in Bradford is absolutely critical to the city. I think it is fair to say it is the jewel in the crown in the city centre, and, while much has been said about visitor numbers and they have declined over the last few years, it still brings half a million visitors to the city centre. If you look at the average over a 10-year period, the average is about 650,000. The 1 million that has been referred to and those numbers halving was a blip. It was an outlier statistically, quite frankly; a very positive year, and it would be great if we can get back to those numbers, but half a million visitors coming in to the city centre is important for Bradford.
We are regenerating the city. It is not in the same place as the other cities, and let us be frank about that. Bradford is a city that has a hugely impressive past, an industrial past that made it a very wealthy city, but it is a city that has been in decline for many decades. We are just at the cusp of turning that around now with major investments in the offing. The investment in City Park, as has already been referred to, has made a big difference to the city, but one of the things that has kept Bradford functioning as a proper city through that difficult decade has been the National Media Museum, and obviously in its former name as well. It is absolutely fundamental to the future of the city, and I cannot overstate its importance.
Kersten England: I will speak briefly about York. Clearly the director of the Museums Group has already made the point about the link with our tourism industry where we have 7 million visitors a year, 930,000 of whom visit the Railway Museum, but I think it is also important to say that the Railway Museum speaks about the history and heritage of our city. It connects the residents of the place to where we have come from. But, for us, much more importantly, it inspires children and it draws them in to those STEM sciences that are so critical now to our nation’s growth.
I heard Richard Noble of the Bloodhound endeavour speaking at the National Railway Museum, saying you can correlate the economic growth of a country to those that have PhDs in physics and are drawn in to the engineering subjects. That is very important to us. Not only do we have a shared apprenticeship in the rail industry, which the NRM is working on with us, including Network Rail and our local college, but we also have a very strong connection across to the University of York to work on safety in the rail industry. We share a rail safety institute with Nanjing University in China, and reference was made to Brian Cantor who has until recently been the Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, now going to be the Vice-Chancellor of Bradford. Gerry is smiling. My loss is your gain, I think, Gerry.
One of the things that was very important was the connection between research and development, knowledge transfer, wealth creation, and industrial growth in our city connected to the rail industry. Just to be very clear, we remain the base of the rail industry in the north of England, with five train operators, the northern base for Network Rail, and many emerging companies now in the rail sector, including some of the advanced manufacturing and digital high-tech companies in the rail industry. You can see the importance in connections between the NRM and our city and our city’s growth and continued prosperity are pretty clear.
Vicky Rosin: I do not want to completely repeat what Kersten has said, but, of course, the Museum of Science and Industry is hugely important to Manchester. It is located right in the city centre, in the Castlefield district. It is based on the world’s oldest surviving passenger railway station. It is located in five listed buildings, hugely important in terms of telling the story about Manchester and our industrial heritage, the birthplace of the industrial revolution. It has always been important to Manchester people that the museum is at the heart of that story. We have made very good connections with the University of Manchester, which is well renowned and well regarded as one of the leading science universities at the forefront of both research and innovation. We see MOSI telegraphing Manchester the city as the 21st city of science and technology.
We have had extremely good visitor numbers of late, 850,000 over the recent year, and have had massive support from our schools. MOSI holds the Greater Manchester contract for the STEMNET arrangements and we place science ambassadors in 140 schools around the region and work with almost 500 teachers. The importance of that STEM agenda for the city, for the growth and investment in new skills, is absolutely critical. It has been a very important journey for us as a city to make connections with the Science Museum Group. It is quite recent, as you have heard, but over the last 12 to 18 months we have made huge strides in reconnecting MOSI as one of the jewels in our very wide-ranging cultural and science portfolio. We have every confidence that the museum is going to go from strength to strength.
Q51 Chair: We heard from the Minister that DCMS had achieved a better than expected settlement in the CSR. Of course, that probably is not the case for the local authorities. You are going to be facing some difficult decisions. How is that going to affect your ability to support the museums?
Tony Reeves: I think, from a Bradford point of view, yes, you are absolutely right that we have a very difficult financial environment to operate within. The stance we are taking as a local authority is looking at the resource that we are going to have going forward and asking ourselves how best to deploy that resource to achieve the council’s objectives against the stated priorities. Regenerating the city centre is a top priority, alongside achieving step-change in education attainment across the district and building the skills that we need in the local population with a very fast-growing and uniquely young population for the north of England to exploit the economic advantage that brings. If you put skills regeneration and education at the heart of this, then you can see why making sure that the National Media Museum grows in strength and goes from strength to strength in the future, both in its role nationally but also its relationship with the city, is going to be incredibly important to us.
There is no doubt that our revenue funding is going to be in very short supply, but we are very happy to sit down with Mr Blatchford and his colleagues-we have already started to outline plans to do so-to explore how we can work together in the future. We have not had any detailed conversations about money. We anticipate that we will be doing some time soon.
Q52 Mr Leech: Does Bradford council provide the accommodation for the museum free of charge?
Tony Reeves: Yes, on a peppercorn rent. There are two separate leases. One expires in 2087 and one 10 years later, but it is on a peppercorn rent.
Mr Leech: It is quite a big financial contribution?
Tony Reeves: Yes, right in the city centre.
Kersten England: I would echo much of what Tony said. The spending review settlement notwithstanding, we will continue to work with and support the NRM in a number of ways. I have already referenced the apprenticeship programme that we are working on and I think we will look to broaden that in the coming years. We are in active dialogue and partnership with them on the regeneration of a piece of land in the middle of York called York Central. It is the largest brownfield site in western Europe next to a main line railway station, and the NRM sits on it. We, Network Rail and the NRM are working to bring a business district to fruition in that area. We are actively looking at their land holdings and how we might support them to realise value from it. We attended the property forum in Cannes this year and we took the NRM offer as part of that to the market.
As was referenced, the chief executive of our destination management organisation sits on the board of the NRM, as does one of my directors, the director of regeneration. We actively include them in all the partnership work around the cultural offers of the city. It is not so many years since the theatre produced The Railway Children, with a neat reference to Bradford; put it on at the Railway Museum and put it on at Waterloo and then took it to Toronto in Canada, which is twinned with York. We will continue to support them to position the offer of the NRM in regional, national and international markets as well.
Vicky Rosin: Similarly, we are facing considerable reductions in our revenue and expenditure, but I think our track record in Manchester demonstrates that we have always seen the role of culture as a catalyst for regeneration and for investment and growth. Not to continue to support and invest where we can is seen as a retrograde step. While we have to look at cutbacks and efficiencies across the board, we will continue to do everything we can. In this example, to support the museum, we have worked very closely with the new director to help her bring forward a 10-year development plan that we are very excited about, and, as you heard earlier reference to the Ordsall Chord, while it is absolutely critical to the development and investment potential within Manchester, we recognise that it brings real challenges to the museum. We use our good offices where we can to broker the relationships with Network Rail and the ongoing negotiations that MOSI needs to continue to secure the best possible outcomes for themselves.
Similarly with my colleagues here, we support the museum through direct participation in the board, through support for the Science Festival, which is a hugely successful festival that MOSI curates, and through other conferences and support in kind where we can.
Kersten England: If I might just add one thing that might be of interest, a decade ago my council transferred its museum holdings into a trust status and they now run independently. Clearly the council still owns the asset. I think we would be very happy to support the Science Museums Group and the NRM in looking at what some of these freedoms that have been promised might enable them to do. Similarly, I think the three authorities have absolutely committed to working together on the synergies across our three cities and what we might do together to support the Science Museums Group.
Q53 Mr Leech: Just to follow on from that, how does your relationship with Shildon work and does that create any difficulties in terms of the costs of running at two locations?
Kersten England: Yes, clearly I am not responsible for the NRM in Shildon. It enhances the offer of the NRM, and, as you can see, they have built the visitor base up in Shildon. I think it is a net gain for us. There was reference to the running of the locomotives up and down the line, and only at the weekend the Mallard, which was the fastest ever steam locomotive in the world, ran through York Station and on up. We have seen that as a very positive development.
Mr Leech: It is an opportunity rather than a challenge?
Kersten England: For us it is an opportunity. It also brings partnership with Durham, as has been mentioned.
Q54 Philip Davies: Can we go back to the issue of the leak that Mr Blatchford was telling us about earlier? He seemed to think that he knew who it was who had leaked it, but discretion was getting the better part of valour by the sounds of it. Would anybody on the panel like to claim credit for the leak, or would anybody like to specifically rule themselves out as being the source of the leak?
Vicky Rosin: I absolutely rule myself out.
Tony Reeves: Perhaps I will start off, then. I will categorically rule Bradford out, and I am pretty clear from discussions I have had with Mr Blatchford that he does not suspect Bradford of leaking anything either.
Kersten England: It just remains for York to confirm the same. I was with the leader of the council when he took the phone call from the journalist, and we were as surprised as anybody.
Vicky Rosin: It certainly was not Manchester.
Q55 Philip Davies: Tony, if Mr Blatchford made it clear to you that he did not think it was Bradford, did he give any suggestion to you as to who he thought it was?
Tony Reeves: No.
Philip Davies: No. So, we are no wiser on the leak.
Tony Reeves: I cannot help you there I am afraid.
Kersten England: The Cluedo is not solved.
Q56 Philip Davies: Tony, perhaps you could be a bit more forthcoming then about who it was on the council that told Mr Blatchford not to approach the local MPs in Bradford about the situation? I shall go back and read the transcripts again later, but it seemed to me he was pointing the finger at you.
Tony Reeves: Okay, let me absolutely clear about this. There were three things decided for the council to do in the meeting that we had with Mr Blatchford and the chairman. The first was that the portfolio holder was going to speak to Mr Sutcliffe, somebody from her own party but obviously connected intimately with DCMS, which we thought was very important. Myself and my colleague, the regeneration director, undertook to speak to David Ward MP, because we had discussed with Mr Blatchford and Mr Gurr the importance of engaging BIS in the process, particularly around science funding as a potential source of future funding for the Group, and one of our MPs was able to arrange some discussions there. So we undertook to do that.
The third thing, which is something I undertook myself to do, was to then speak to my counterparts in York and Manchester to say, "I think there is a serious issue for the group here. It is not just about Bradford. It is an issue for the group as a whole". I will be frank with you, I also said to them, "As the three northern museums, we are going to be vulnerable in this. We need to work together to make sure that the importance of the northern museums, as part of the very successful and important Science Museum Group, is properly understood".
That was precisely what was agreed. If somebody has interpreted that to mean that they should not speak to MPs, that is a misinterpretation. Our MPs have played a key role in this, including, I have to say, I have no doubt in securing this session today, and there is no question from our point of view that the MPs were going to play anything other than a very important role in this process. Of course, Mr Blatchford has a relationship with Mr Sutcliffe because of previous roles, and it would be completely inappropriate for the council to try to communicate that. I can only say categorically that did not happen, and the only explanation I can give is if there was a very clear misinterpretation or an unclear interpretation of what was said in that discussion.
Philip Davies: Nobody either suggested or stated specifically that Mr Blatchford should not approach the Bradford MPs about the threat to the National Media Museum?
Tony Reeves: No, they did not. Myself, the leader, the portfolio holder and the regeneration director-the four of us who were in the meeting-have discussed this subsequently because it has been raised a couple of times with us and we are absolutely clear that did not happen, and, as I said, I can only put this down to a misinterpretation.
Q57 Mr Sutcliffe: Did you discuss the deal with speaking to the MPs-
Tony Reeves: We did indeed.
Mr Sutcliffe: -rather than calling all the MPs together to sit down and talk this through?
Tony Reeves: At that point. Bearing in mind this is directly after that meeting, and what was agreed was that we would approach yourself and David Ward MP for the purposes I have set out.
Q58 Philip Davies: Why would you think that the other MPs would not have any interest or ability to help?
Tony Reeves: That was not the case at all. This was the immediate thing we needed to do straight from that meeting, bearing in mind we were in a position where we were pretty shocked at the thought that the museum was under threat. None of this was in the public domain at that time. We wanted to understand, in further discussion with the Science Museum Group, exactly what the situation was and there was never any intention to withhold information from any of the MPs. It was just simply the first steps we believed we needed to take-and that was a discussion in the meeting-was to contact Mr Sutcliffe for advice and David Ward to ask if he could open the door for some discussions with BIS. Whether that was the right conclusion or not, that is the factual situation of what went on in that meeting.
Q59 Philip Davies: Do you think that, with hindsight, that was the right thing to do? Would you have done anything differently if you had your time again?
Tony Reeves: Undoubtedly because this then got into the public domain somehow, very quickly afterwards, and it would always have been our intention to ensure that our MPs were briefed before things got into the public domain. The way that events unfolded, we should have briefed all of the MPs at the time. I am absolutely clear about that.
Q60 Mr Sutcliffe: Can I be clear? The meetings with York and Manchester that Bradford council decided would be the way to move forward, was that before the MPs were briefed or after the MPs were briefed in the way that you wanted to brief people?
Tony Reeves: There were three actions from that meeting.
Mr Sutcliffe: What date was that meeting, Tony?
Tony Reeves: I do not have the date to hand. I am very happy to confirm that in writing. I do know that the portfolio holder spoke to you that day. I do know that the regeneration director spoke to David Ward that day, and I spoke to Kersten and to the Chief Executive of Manchester either later that day or the next day. I suspect it was later that day, but I put phone calls in to arrange telephone conversations. I think the straightforward answer was it was at the same time.
Q61 Philip Davies: You said at the start of the session, quite rightly, that the National Media Museum brings half a million visitors into the city centre each year and, therefore, how important it is to Bradford. I had the sense from Mr Blatchford that, while the National Media Museum brings half a million visitors to benefit the city centre, the city centre is not doing a fat lot to bring people in to benefit the National Media Museum. Do you think the council should take any responsibility for the decline in visitor numbers in the sense that, for example, you have a big hole in the centre of Bradford where there should have been a Westfield development? Do you think the council should take any responsibility for this decline in the city centre?
Tony Reeves: I can only talk about the period that I have been at the council, and that is approaching seven years. Over that time we had Westfield on site to start building the shopping scheme and then, of course, the financial crisis ensued and every major shopping scheme in western Europe that was in the development pipeline stalled. The Westfield scheme is now very close to going live again, and Westfield have announced they will be on site later on this year to start building it and open two years hence. Once it is under construction, and we are very confident that that will be the case, it will be the only town centre shopping scheme in western Europe under construction. The council was not responsible for that whatsoever.
During that period the council has invested £24 million in City Park; a tough decision to take and a very challenging decision because that was not universally popular. It was very popular with some people as of course you would know, Mr Davies. City Park has brought hundreds of thousands of people into the city centre, and the part of the city centre absolutely adjacent to the National Media Museum. I think Mr Blatchford touched on that earlier on, but we do need to understand that, as I said earlier, Bradford has been a city that was in decline for some time.
If I was starting to criticise the council, I would say that, for quite some time, the council had been saying with its left hand it wanted to regenerate the city and moving all of its staff out of the city centre over a period of years. We have reversed that, and, despite the funding reductions and the fact that we have lost 1,500 of our colleagues over the last three years, we now have more than 1,000 more people in the city centre because we have closed peripheral buildings and re-staffed them. We have plans to relocate the central library into City Park, which will increase footfall to the library, but then to relocate our whole Education Department and Children’s Services Department into the library, bringing another 1,000 people right into the city centre, right next door to the museum. I think, despite the very difficult economic conditions, which are certainly not unique to Bradford, we have been doing all the right things.
I think the final thing I would say there is we were also absolutely central to Provident Financial relocating their considerable headquarters right into the city centre, very close to the Media Museum, and bringing 800 staff into the city centre, which has subsequently grown to over 1,000 staff. Bradford is in a challenging place, and it is starting to move forward. I think the council is doing all of the right things, and we are absolutely determined that we will continue to re-intensify the core of the city over the coming years to get Bradford to be the functioning city that it once was. That can only be to the huge advantage of the Media Museum. In short, I think we are doing the right things.
Q62 Philip Davies: For the last four or five years I have been told by various people on Bradford Council that the Westfield development is imminent; it is going to start, it never starts; it is going to start, it never does. Would you not accept that kind of situation has not helped in terms of encouraging people perhaps, say from my constituency, to want to go into the centre of Bradford, which not only would help the city centre but help guarantee more visitors for the National Media Museum?
Tony Reeves: The delays to the shopping scheme as a result of the economic downturn have undoubtedly slowed down progress in the regeneration of the city centre, and once that scheme is open and there are hundreds and thousands of people through there each month, that will make a big difference to the footfall in the city and will benefit the museum. I completely agree with that point. Your previous question was asking if the council was responsible for that, and what I have said categorically is the council was absolutely not responsible for that. It is absolutely a product of the economic downturn. You can look at 20-odd other examples in this country of town centre shopping schemes that have not been able to move forward and lots more across western Europe as well.
Q63 Philip Davies: We will move on, but it has been imminent since the-it was not that there was an economic crash and that the council then said, "Westfield now will not open until 2015 or 2014", or whatever. We had the economic crash, and then we were still told that the start was imminent and it was imminent and nothing ever happened. That is the point I am getting it. Just for the record now, because obviously the Westfield development is so important to footfall into the city centre, which can only benefit the National Media Museum, can you state categorically now, just so we all have it there and it is on the record, exactly when work proper will start on the Westfield site and when that shopping centre will open?
Tony Reeves: What I can say categorically is that Westfield have announced in their annual report that they will recommence the construction of that scheme in the second half of 2013 and it is a two-year build period. What I can categorically say is that we have real confidence that Westfield will achieve that aim and so they will be on site this year and building. As to start dates, I am afraid that is a matter for Westfield to say precisely when that will be.
Q64 Mr Sutcliffe: The good news we have heard today from the Minister is that the museums will not close and from the Director of the Science Museum Group that the museum will not close. I think that is the excellent news we have heard today, but I still want to go back to why we are in the situation that we are and how to move it forward. In 2012 we were told by Mr Blatchford there was a management structure change at the museum. We are all aware of that change and what that change represented. Did you have any alarm bells ringing at that time about the future of the Media Museum?
Tony Reeves: Yes, I did because-
Mr Sutcliffe: What did you do?
Tony Reeves: In my role as an Advisory Board member, to put it bluntly, myself and other members of the Advisory Board challenged Mr Blatchford and the then chair, Michael Wilson, extremely robustly, in what I suspect was quite an uncomfortable meeting for them, about the changes they were making, the reason for it, and questioning the reasons why the Advisory Board were not informed in advance of the changes that were being made. Of course, from a Bradford point of view, because this was coinciding with the development of media space at the Science Museum in London, alarm bells were ringing there as well.
What I can say to you, categorically, is that myself and the rest of the Advisory Board were absolutely reassured that the purpose behind the changes that were being made was because there was a lack of confidence in the curatorial direction of the museum and the need for Bradford to up its game because things were slowly sliding and Mr Blatchford saying, "Rather than this being a signal that the museum is going to close, if we do not act", and I think he said this again this morning, "the museum will inevitably continue to decline over a period of time".
He explained to us, as did the chair, the sensitivities from a personnel point of view that needed to be managed, and, while they could have discussed it with the Advisory Board, they made a choice not to and we understood their reasoning for that, but I think on reflection there was a view that they could and should have discussed this confidentially with the Advisory Board beforehand.
In terms of the media space in the Science Museum, we were absolutely reassured that that was the potential to promote the museum in Bradford, not in any way to detract from it. We questioned them very hard on that, but I have to say I was entirely satisfied with the answers I received.
Q65 Mr Sutcliffe: That was 2012. You know that the MPs were alarmed that the BBC studio was going to be removed from the Media Museum and that we tried to fight against that and, indeed, Mr Davies and I questioned the BBC when they appeared before the Select Committee. For me, that meant alarm bells ringing that this managed decline or perceived managed decline was going on. Did the council object to the BBC moving out of the Media Museum?
Tony Reeves: Yes, the council did, and we made communication to the BBC about them moving out and we did that also through Bradford Breakthrough, of which the council is a member. That is an organisation that represents large businesses in the city. The answers we received to that were very clearly that it was a decision for the BBC, that they were in a position where their spending position was changing very rapidly and, while their commitment to Bradford was undiminished, they were moving the studio. I was absolutely clear that the issues were completely unrelated. That was very much a decision for the BBC. It did not ring alarm bells about the future of the museum as a whole at that stage, although it was disappointing to see the studio moving out of the museum.
Q66 Mr Sutcliffe: In 2012-13, we had the management restructure and I mentioned earlier to Mr Blatchford the audience figures for the reach of the museums, and I quoted the figures of the overseas visitors, which for the Science Museum in London was 1.1 million, for Manchester 48,000, for York 51,000 and for Bradford just 8,000. Are you aware of that figure?
Tony Reeves: I am aware of it now, yes.
Q67 Mr Sutcliffe: What do you think are the reasons behind Bradford only attracting 8,000 overseas visitors?
Tony Reeves: I am speculating, because I have read those figures in that detail in recent days, Mr Sutcliffe. The two thoughts I would have-firstly, Bradford as a city does not attract tourism to the extent that other cities do. York, obviously with its heritage, attracts huge numbers of tourists, as we know in the Yorkshire region. Manchester as a city that has regenerated, or is in a different stage of its regeneration, will attract a lot more visitors. Bradford does in terms of Ilkley and Haworth and other places, and I think Mr Davies has already touched on the point that the city centre does not have enough to offer people to come in and visit. As the city continues to regenerate and City Park-and somebody referred to Bollywood Carmen earlier on today-a lot of other events taking place in the city are reenergising the city centre. I am talking retrospectively, but at the moment we are starting to make real progress in that regard and that will build reputation for the city. I think that is very important.
I think the second thing is that the bulk of our overseas visitors are coming to visit family rather than on tourism visits, and there is a real opportunity through reengaging our schools, the colleges and university in Bradford, to reengage those communities. I think that will make a significant difference in the overseas visitors coming to visit the museum in future years. We would be very pleased to have the opportunity to work with Mr Blatchford and his colleagues to strengthen those ties and make sure that becomes a reality.
Q68 Mr Sutcliffe: Perhaps you heard me mention to the Minister and to Mr Blatchford the meeting of 23 April where Mr Blatchford goes to meet the Minister to discuss the National Media Museum as a result of the spending review. Were you surprised that that meeting only discussed the Media Museum and not the three other museums?
Tony Reeves: Yes, I was. My understanding of the situation is that the crisis that has emerged over the last weeks has emerged because of the funding settlement for the group as a whole. We knew about the challenges at the Media Museum and, as I have referred to, I was part of the Advisory Board that discussed those challenges with Mr Blatchford and colleagues last year and very much supported, and still do, the changes that were being made to reinvigorate the museum.
Given what I know now, I am not surprised the discussions were taking place as those were problems for the whole group. I was surprised that the discussion, from what I have heard, was about Bradford. I was not party to that meeting, or I did not know of its existence until very recently.
Q69 Mr Sutcliffe: Just moving forward then now, given the announcements that have been made today by the Minister and Mr Blatchford, what positive things do you think we can take away from and what sort of partnerships do you want to see between the Science Museum Group and the council and the university about what can happen in terms of regeneration of the Media Museum?
Tony Reeves: I think there are lots of positives that we can take from this experience, what has been a very difficult and quite traumatic experience over the last few weeks for many people. First of all, if there was any doubt what the Media Museum means to Bradfordians, I think that has been absolutely nailed with the phenomenal response to the Telegraph and Argus campaign; the petition. If there was ever any doubt about the international, let alone national, standing of the Media Museum, when you have the likes of Martin Scorsese, the Whistling Woods Film School in Mumbai-which by the way is opening a branch in Bradford today at Bradford College, a new course for the film industry-and a whole host of other people from across the globe, letters from China, and a range of other places, then that issue has been absolutely nailed.
I think there is the opportunity to shake a lot of people out of complacency that the museum would always be there and we have to work hard in a very changing environment alongside the Science Museum Group to support them in their leadership of repositioning the whole group and the Bradford Museum, in particular, and we are absolutely determined to do that. I think it has caused Mr Blatchford and the Chair of Trustees to have a fresh look at Bradford and what Bradford as a city is all about. I hope they have been very pleasantly surprised, and I believe that is the case, by the response they have seen, both from the local authority, from the districts’ MPs working together, and from the overwhelming support from Bradfordians and, as I said, from across the globe. I think the opportunity is there to reengage the colleges and university in Bradford-and they are willing to do that-and to re-engage the museum locally to drive things forward. The council will play a full part in that process. I think lots of positives as a result of that will come from this.
Q70 Mr Leech: I think we heard earlier visitor figures for York of 7 million people.
Kersten England: 7 million tourists a year, yes.
Mr Leech: What are the respective figures for Manchester and Bradford?
Vicky Rosin: I do not have that off the top of my head.
Mr Leech: For Bradford?
Tony Reeves: It certainly will not be 7 million. I do not have the figure. There are considerable visitors to the Bradford district because of Haworth, because of Ilkley, because of Saltaire, the World Heritage site in Mr Davies’ constituency, and a range of other things. But to the actual city centre itself the numbers would be very considerably down on that, other than large numbers of overseas visitors coming to visit family in Bradford.
Q71 Mr Leech: If we just focus for a second on York in that case. Of those 7 million people who have come to visit York, how many of those specifically come for the museum?
Kersten England: The figure that you saw was about 930,000 visit the museum. They are not unique visitors just to the museum. They will sample the whole of the attractions. What we do know is York has a number of top attractions, so clearly the Minster and the walled city are a big draw; also Jorvik, which of course was ground-breaking in its time, the archaeological understanding of York; and then there is the Railway Museum. In fact it probably goes Minster, NRM and then Jorvik and then the wider retail leisure offer that the city has. In other words, it is very significant.
Vicky Rosin: I can’t give you the absolute figure, but what we do know is our tourism visitor numbers increase year on year. We have significantly more foreign tourists in the city every year. MOSI is our top visitor attraction. Therefore, as I said before, 800,000 visitors but it joins a top-quality stable of cultural offers. Manchester is the sporting capital of the world. Therefore, in terms of very regular visitors coming in to the whole range of offer, we feel very confident that it will continue to grow.
I think what has not been said is although it is very welcome that it has been confirmed the museums will not close, 5% reductions nevertheless will mean changes for all of us. We will need to work very closely with the Science Museum Group to make sure that the way in which we take the developments of our respective museums forward is we learn from this. Certainly for myself, we are quite new to the Science Museum Group in terms of the support we give to MOSI, but that, out of this, the ability for the three cities to work very much more closely and learn from each other is something that we should take as a positive.
Q72 Mr Leech: I think everyone would recognise that in the tough financial climate local authorities just chucking loads of money at the respective museums is not going to be an option. But, given the suggestion that every £1 that is spent on museums generates £4 of economic activity, is there a role for your respective councils in terms of helping the marketing of the museums? None of you were able to give me the figures for how many people specifically come to Bradford, Manchester or York to go to a museum and, on that basis, you will not know the value that the museums are giving to your city centres and the respective cities in terms of the economic benefits of people coming into the city. Is there a role for you in the future to provide more support, not financial support but helping to market the respective museums for your visitors?
Kersten England: I will just start by saying clearly Visit York, which is our destination marketing organisation for the city, already does do that. It promotes the offer of the NRM into international markets and we will continue to do that.
Mr Leech: What sort of things does it do in order to specifically market the museum?
Kersten England: We produce a year-round calendar of events and attractions and that has an online presence. It has a trade fair presence. It has copy that runs in local, regional and international media. We also do product development with the NRM so that we make sure that our attractions are working together on a themed basis where that is useful to do so. For example, I mentioned The Railway Children, which was a production of the theatre that was saved by the NRM that then went global. That is the kind of thing that can be achieved when we work well together.
Vicky Rosin: We do know how much gross value added the museum brings directly, £7 million a year, and indirectly a further £8 million. I just do not have the figures in terms of the breakdown as to what proportion of that is the foreign tourism. Similarly to York, Visit Manchester is well connected to MOSI. We are direct supporters of the Science Festival. We also directly support Future Everything, which is a digital and arts and cultural festival. We have enhanced and grown the connections between our schools both, within the city and Greater Manchester.
That said, I do not want to sound complacent, because I do think there is more that we can do in terms of both connecting the millions that live and visit around Greater Manchester and the north-west, not just to MOSI but Bradford and to York, and I think there is considerably more that we can do to support each other as a group. I will be taking that to look at again.
Tony Reeves: Certainly from my point, I would echo the comments that have been made. I think we are doing quite a lot already, but there is more that can be done and we in no way want to be complacent about this. If I can give you a couple of examples; the Science Festival in Bradford, which is more in its infancy but it is growing each year, we support that, and the relationship between the Media Museum and the Science Festival is growing ever stronger. Two years ago we hosted the National Science Festival and we have ambitions, as do the British Science Federation, to come back to Bradford in future. I do know they visit Manchester periodically as well, and that is something we can strengthen in those links with the museum as well.
We have been promoting the regeneration of the city and where Bradford is at by holding a series of events with journalists over the last few months through Bradford Breakthrough, the organisation I referred to earlier, and on one of those events we took the journalists to the opening night of the International Film Festival at the museum-one of the journalists is in the room here today-for a rather risqué opening film, I have to say, which was reported in some of the local press, that showed the city’s confidence to take journalists into such an event.
Chair: I have to know: what was it?
Tony Reeves: It was the Look of Love about Paul Raymond. It was the opening night of that. A very good film; it is worth seeing but not for the fainthearted I think, Chair.
Chair: The Committee will have a screening.
Tony Reeves: But it was a great opportunity to showcase the museum at its finest, with many people there experiencing the opening night of the Film Festival. We are very happy to do that, but, as I have said, there is more that we can do and we will leave no stone unturned in exploring the relationship between the city and the Science Museum Group as we move these discussions forward.
Q73 Mr Leech: Just changing the subject slightly, what are your local authorities’ views on the impacts of charging at the museum?
Vicky Rosin: We would be completely unsupportive of that. I think the evidence we have had since we stopped charging in MOSI, which I think was around 2001, in two years we doubled the visitor numbers and since 2003-04 we have doubled them again but, more importantly, just to visitor numbers, is the real economic diversity of our audience. The access that a policy of not charging affords right across the spectrum of our visitors is important to us as a local council. We believe that there could be certainly quite serious consequences of reintroducing that.
Tony Reeves: From a Bradford point of view, the council would not support charging. We want to inspire our young people to raise aspirations, to build ambition. We want to strengthen the science and technology links with the museum without losing what is great around film and photography and so on. I believe there are ways of doing that. It would be utterly counterproductive to deny access to the very people that we are looking to inspire and so the council would not support charging.
Kersten England: The only thing I would add to that is I think we would like to work with the Science Museum Group and push them to look at other revenue streams and the further commercialisation of the operation, much preferable to the introduction of charging.
Q74 Mr Leech: A number of people who have written to us providing written evidence have suggested that the museums ought to be allowed to charge for special exhibitions. Do you have a view on that?
Vicky Rosin: I think that is not inconsistent with a general policy of not charging. We have an example. The Manchester Art Gallery that the council runs does not charge as a generality. However, there are certain exhibitions or certain events where we would consider charging. Our experience is always that visitor numbers are affected by that, but, nevertheless, that is a commercial decision sometimes about the ability to bring specific exhibitions.
Q75 Mr Leech: Does it ever impact on customer attitudes and the likelihood of people returning as well?
Vicky Rosin: I think the fact that you can get into either the gallery or to the museum for free is something that Manchester residents hold dear. There is a choice then. I think people understand that sometimes in order to be able to bring certain exhibitions to the city and all the profile and the reputation and the other potential economic advantages that that might bring there is an argument. We do face criticism when we levy charges, but that is a judgment that we have had to make.
Tony Reeves: I think this is something we would want to explore in detail and think very carefully about in terms of giving a position on that. What we would not want to see is a general two-tier experience at the museum, but if it was for very specific circumstances that could not be achieved in any other way, then that is something that we would look at with an open mind.
Q76 Mr Leech: Finally, there has been some discussion about the possibility of the Museum Group being transferred from DCMS to BIS or at least having some sort of relationship with BIS. Do any of you have any concerns about the potential difficulty in competing for science money with universities, research councils and other organisations like that and whether you would be able to compete with those other organisations?
Tony Reeves: From my point of view on this, and obviously I have discussed this with Mr Blatchford in some detail thus far, the decision as to which Department the Museum Group comes under is not one for the council. That is for Ministers to establish. The thing that I am very clear about is that the relationship with BIS can be stronger and that would be to the benefit of the whole group, and we are very keen to support the Science Museum Group in developing those relationships with BIS.
In terms of the relationship with the universities, I think there is synergy rather than conflict there. I think the Science Museum Group plays a unique role in inspiring young people-budding engineers, technologists, scientists, as we have heard this morning-and that is to the advantage of the universities where we have skill shortages in a lot of those sectors in the UK. That is something the Science Museum Group can play a more central role in promoting. You only have to see, and I am sure everybody in this Committee will have experienced this themselves, the experience that young people have in the museums and the lasting impact it makes on them to see how important that synergy can become if we exploit it to the full.
Chair: I think that is all we have. Thank you very much.