Urgent Business (Agenda item 4)
To note whether the Chairman proposes to accept any item as urgent business, pursuant to Section 100(B)(4)(b) of the Local Government Act, 1972.
In the light of proposed budget cuts to local museums, the Chairman proposed that this matter be discussed under urgent business.
The first details of how the latest round of budget cuts at Norfolk County Council could hit cultural services in the region had been revealed. Norfolk County Council was facing a £13m budget shortfall in 2015-16 and the £900,000 contribution from areas such as museums, libraries and arts would be considered by Councillors at a meeting being held on Tuesday, 21 October 2014.
The report due included proposals for increasing income from museums such as introducing car parking charges at the Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse Museums and charging for entry to the Ancient House Museum during the winter months.
As this affected the Breckland Area Museums Committee, the Chairman felt that this would be the only opportunity to discuss these matters prior to the NCC meeting next week.
Councillor Paul Smyth, the Chairman of the NCC Communities Committee was in attendance.
Dr Robin Hanley stated that all curators were required to look at options for saving money and generating income and a report had already been prepared for the Communities meeting next week. He pointed out that there were a number of Museums that already charged for parking and his proposal going forward was to introduce a modest charge at Gressenhall. Card Pass Holders would not be charged which was in line with the National Trust. He felt that this could provide an additional incentive for those who visited the Museum quite regularly to invest in an annual pass. Pay and display machines would be located in the front car park consisting of a minimal monitoring regime. Members were informed that Ironbridge Museum had recently introduced car parking charges as well as an entrance fee and a decrease in footfall had not been noticed.
Dr Robin Hanley said that he was mindful of the implications of those people trying to avoid paying to park such as parking elsewhere on other roads but he was aware that most people who visited the Museum visited for half a day or a full day and would not mind paying a nominal fee. The detail still had to be worked out.
The Ancient House Museum currently offered free admission to visitors from October to March the same as Kings Lynn; however, for this particular Museum there was a funding agreement in place to cover lost income; unfortunately, Ancient House did not have such an agreement in place. He felt that this could be a barrier to potential visitors but there would be some flexibility in place for certain visitors such as various groups/parties. There was also an opportunity to introduce a Museum Pass. The Ancient House Museum needed to concentrate on increasing visitor numbers and retail sales.
Mr Blackburn from the Charles Burrell Museum asked what proportion of the £88,000 was the Museums budget. Members were informed that the budget was made up of Norfolk County Council funding and Arts Councils funding around £4m; therefore, the proportion was about 2%.
Dr Robin Hanley felt it was only reasonable that every site looked at what it could do to save money and increase its visitors.
In response to a concern in relation to the Friends of Ancient House, a registered charity who enjoyed supporting the activities of the Museum, Members were advised that there would be an opportunity for people to join the Friends membership which would allow free entry.
Councillor Kybird felt that £3k was too much for Ancient House to achieve in the winter months.
Councillor Kiddle-Morris pointed out that Gressenhall would become the first pay and display car park in Breckland. He referred to the field that was used as an overspill car park for events and asked how this would be monitored if the machine was just being located at the front. He also asked about capital costs. Dr Robin Hanley said that he would be looking at other attractions that charged for events on fields where car parking attendants had been used to collect a nominal charge. A couple of operational models needed to be put in place. The Chairman mentioned the practicalities of the introduction of car parking charges as Pass Holders who would not need to pay would need some form of identification displayed in their cars such as a sticker. Members were informed that the National Trust already posted out mailings to their members and this would be the point when the car park display tickets could be issued. The Chairman thought that a Museums Pass for Thetford would not be as good as a Museum Pass for Dereham or Norwich as there were limited bus services available from Thetford. Dr Robin Hanley advised that he was looking to review the whole Pass offer. It could be classed as a discount scheme or a membership offering people more than just entry reduction. Members were already being offered a little more at Gressenhall; for Thetford it would be more about the Friends Membership.
The Chairman asked if Members had any concerns that they wished to raise with Councillor Smyth. It was suggested that Dr Robin Hanley should look at what other Museums were doing outside of Breckland. In response, Members were assured that all other Museums were being looked at; the pain was equally being shared across the service.
Councillor Smyth said that he would be looking at a number of options and proposals and a number of efficiencies had already been found. A further constraint however, was that Norfolk County Council had to save a further £209m from 2015 to 2020 and there were some areas that could not sustain any further cuts; it was gloomy news and would be regardless of what happened in next year’s Elections.