Memorandum submitted by the Committee
of Area Museums Councils
(i) Most of the negative impact of the foot
and mouth outbreak on museums will probably ultimately prove to
have been caused by confused messages during the early stages
of the outbreak.
(ii) There is a need for closer joint working
between Government Departments on tourism and countryside issues.
(iii) It may be timely to re-examine the
exact relationships in England between DCMS, Government Offices
in the Regions (GOs), the English Tourism Council (ETC), the Regional
Tourist Boards (RTBs) and the network of local authority Tourism
Information Centres (TICs).
(iv) There is a standing need for a coherent
information network connecting national, regional and local tourism
(v) The farming community should be more
closely involved as key partners in the tourism industry, both
as managers of the countryside as well as, increasingly, providers
of visitor attractions and accommodation.
(vi) In addition to the ETC national campaign,
a sustained major campaign of destination marketing is needed
at sub-regional and local level.
(vii) Local authorities should be encouraged
temporarily to relax their rules on tourism sign-posting.
(viii) Local Education Authorities should
be urgently encouraged to provide up-to-date information to schools
about museums, and other educational visitor attractions, that
are open for visiting.
1. The Committee of Area Museums Councils
(AMCs) is a federation of the 10 regional museums agencies in
England, and their counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern
Ireland. It acts as a forum for information-sharing, and for representing
the interests and development needs of the non-national museums
sector to Government and others.
2. From the onset of the current outbreak
of foot and mouth disease, the AMCs have been monitoring the impact
on museums which, alongside historic houses and other heritage
sites, form a key element in the varied mix that attracts tourists
to rural areas, and to the UK in general. CAMC is co-ordinating
this information nationally to enable comprehensive statistics
to be produced detailing the impact on the UK's some 1,800 Registered
Museums during the outbreak. An initial assessment is given in
the attached annex.
3. We have noted that it is not the Select
Committee's intention to consider the long-term impact on the
tourist industry during its current inquiry, and are therefore
confining our comments to a number of general issues relating
to the provision of public information and promotion which, from
the perspective of the museums sector, appear to have been highlighted
by the current outbreak.
4. In order to provide some context to this,
the attached annex provides a summary of our specific concerns
regarding museums. We hope that the Committee will consider undertaking
a full inquiry into the long-term implications of the current
outbreak, with reference to such evidence, at the appropriate
Communication and Structural Issues
5. AMCs work in close partnership with their
Regional and Country Tourist Boards and have strong interests
in common. But they also represent museums as a key constituency
within the Tourist Boards' client base, and from this perspective
are able to provide an external assessment of the system.
6. Many of the problems for museums that
arose at the start of the outbreak were due to confused messages
from Government Departments and local authorities about the extent
to which the countryside as a whole was likely to be affected.
This led to precautionary closures, since shown to have been unnecessary,
resulting in an immediate overall reduction in countryside visiting.
It is very likely that where museums sustain significant financial
losses during the year they will largely relate to this initial
period of uncertainty.
7. It must be asked whether the impact would
have been as severe had it been possible for DCMS to have issued
its Guidance for Visitor Attractions more speedily: as it was
this did not appear until 28 March, more than a month after the
first evidence of an epidemic, to be reissued, with revisions,
six days later.
8. No doubt some of these difficulties relate
to the effectiveness of communications between DCMS and other
departmentsDETR and MAFF in particular. It appears to us,
at least in the English context, that the crisis has underlined
the fact that despite well-promoted intentions towards an integrated
approach to DCMS sectors following the Comprehensive Spending
Review of 1997, thinking and practice is not yet fully "joined-up".
Indeed, in some areas regional links between tourism and the other
DCMS sectors appear to be weaker than they were five years ago.
9. We suggest it may be timely to re-examine
the exact relationships between DCMS and the Regional Government
Offices, the English Tourism Council (ETC), the Regional Tourist
Boards (RTBs) and the network of local authority Tourism Information
10. In England, the ETC and the RTBs have
done an excellent job in responding speedily to the problem, but
we gather that they have been hard-pressed, both in providing
Government with up-to-date intelligence on the impact of the outbreak,
and in communicating timely advice to tourism businesses, to the
public, and crucially, to the media. We wonder whether the emphasis
on strategy in recent years has diverted the resources necessary
to maintain effective lines of communication within the tourism
11. Given that heritage attractions, and
the tourism industry in general, will always be vulnerable to
exceptional events requiring the provision of urgent information
and remedial action (besides foot and mouth disease, one could
cite flooding, rail problems, petrol crises and terrorism as examples
that have arisen within the past decade) there would seem to be
a standing need for a coherent information network connecting
the national and regional agencies and, below them, the grass-roots
information provided through TICs. Given the opportunities now
provided through electronic networks, there is also scope to extend
the provision of such information, for example, through public
libraries. It appears that the current level of government support
to the RTBs does not provide the capacity to provide this infrastructure.
12. The network of 560 TICs in England,
which plays such a crucial role at the sub-regional level, is
increasingly subject to attrition through financial pressures
on local authorities. These pressures are being exacerbated as
a result of the Best Value review process, and we understand that
it is estimated that a further 200 may be lost over the next few
years. We hope that the Select Committee will consider this issue,
in particular the adequacy of the ICT infrastructure available
to support speedy communication between TICs, and between TICS
13. The outbreak has underlined the close
interests shared by rural museums and the farming community, many
of whomthrough diversificationhave as close an interest
in tourism as in agriculture. As businesses they often share similarities
of scale and interests to museums, providing opportunities for
joint marketing events and promotion.
14. It is now clear that it is no longer
possible to confine agricultural policy to food production. Farmers,
as managers of the countryside, and providers of attractions and
accommodation, must be seen as key partners in the tourism industry.
While the DETR's Rural White Paper for England is clearly engaged
with this issue, we suggest that recent events have shown that
these principles need to be given even higher profile, and reflected
in much closer working between MAFF, DETR and DCMS. We understand
that moves are afoot to bring MAFF's regional offices in England
within the ambit of the Regional Government Offices, and welcome
15. We believe that Government recognises
and is seeking to address these issues. From the experience of
AMCs, which are heavily engaged in rural areas, we believe there
is generally close working between MAFF, the Countryside Agency
and the Regional Development Agencies, but we believe there would
be value in a single co-ordinating body charged with overarching
rural policy in a region, within which cultural mattersincluding
tourism would be a key dimension. Whether the Government
Regional Office, or the Regional Development Agency is best suited
to take on this role, is a matter of discussion in relation to
government policy for the regions.
16. The matters referred to above are structural
issues. There are also a number of immediate practical measures
that can be taken to help restore the balance of rural tourism
in rural areas.
17. We welcome the recent announcement that
ETC is to receive £3.8 million for a national and regional
recovery plan for England, but note that this contrasts with an
"initial" £5 million provided by the Scottish Executive
to the Scottish tourism agency (to include measures to "stabilise
the tourism network"), and with ETC's own estimate that over
£20 million is required to fund a comprehensive medium and
longer term recovery strategy. It is essential that the RTBs in
particular are adequately resourced to assist with what marketing
and PR actions are determined to be essential and appropriate
at the local level.
18. In particular, a sustained, vigorous
campaign of destination marketing is needed at sub-regional and
local level, in particular to target those areas that have been
hardest hit. We believe that this will require additional Government
funding, reflecting the fact that individual operators and tourism
consortia will not have the cash to make any significant financial
19. It would be helpful if, for the duration
of 2001, local authorities could be encouraged to relax the rules
on tourism sign-posting to enable smaller attractions to have
a higher roadside profile for tourists. Temporary signage arrangements
might be negotiated in partnership with the AA and RAC.
20. School, and other group educational
visits to museums have been a significant casualty of the past
two months. This represents not only loss of important income
to educational visitor attractions such as independent museums,
but also a social cost. DfEE should urgently encourage Local Education
Authorities to be proactive in providing up-to-date information
to schools about museums that are open for visiting.