HC Deb 17 July 1989 vol 157 cc14-5
31. Dr. Marek

To ask the Minister for the Arts what information he has on the proportion of staff salary costs to total central Government grants in the national museums.

Mr. Luce

In 1988–89 the total salary costs of the Office of Arts and Libraries sponsored national museums and galleries represented 90 per cent. of annual Government grant-in-aid for running costs and 56 per cent. of the institutions' total grant-in-aid from the arts programme.

Dr. Marek

Is the Minister aware that the percentage is creeping up? For example, this year for the V and A 98 per cent. of the total grant is used for running costs. Will the Minister try to correct the problem not by cutting the number of museum staff or their salaries, but by ensuring that the funding for museums is put on a proper basis so that staff have a high morale and good salaries, and the pictures and exhibits are not at risk, as stated in the letter from the five chairmen of the national musuems which is on the Prime Minister's desk this afternoon?

Mr. Luce

Before responding to the hon. Gentleman's point, I must make it absolutely plain that the past few years have seen an unprecedented expansion and refurbishment of our national institutions—ranging from the Tate galleries to the Imperial War museum and the National Portrait gallery, which has extended its position in north Wales, to a range of other refurbishments which have been quite dramatic and unprecedented. The hon. Gentleman is right, of course—it is essential to ensure that the buildings are maintained in good condition. That is why since 1979 there has been a 50 per cent. increase in real terms in the amount of money for building and maintenance, and why I am putting extra money into that work in the present four-year period. I take my responsibility for the welfare of those institutions very seriously, and I take serious note of the views expressed by the chairmen and directors.

Mr. Jessel

Does my right hon. Friend agree that that substantial increase in real terms since 1979 is highly important? Does he further agree that inflation is the one thing which threatens to erode the benefits of that increase? Does it not follow, therefore, that the museums—like everyone else—should support policies which bring down inflation?

Mr. Luce

My hon. Friend must be right. Inflation is, of course, the biggest threat to museums and galleries. That is why the Government's highest priority is to tackle inflation.

The issues that we are discussing arise from my request that all institutions should have corporate strategies, forecasting five to 10 years ahead what they need to remain in good shape, and from their untying from the Property Services Agency, which has revealed certain additional requirements. Those issues have been revealed in the past few months and I shall take them on board.

Mr. Fisher

Does the Minister agree with the five chairmen of the national galleries and museums who, having prepared corporate plans as requested, have written to the Prime Minister today to say that unless the Government provide extra money before the next pay round in the autumn, galleries will close, exhibitions will be fewer, staff will be cut, opening hours will be shorter and works of art will be at risk? Does the Minister agree that the present situation is the result of 10 years of neglect by the Government of our museum world, as documented by the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office, and in particular the result of a grant increase this year of only 2.5 per cent. when inflation is 8 per cent. and wage rises are 8 per cent. plus? Will the Minister go to the Chancellor and fight for more money for our national museums, or will he sit idly by and let them crumble?

Mr. Luce

The hon. Gentleman should be careful about suggesting that there have been cuts to the national museums and galleries over the past 10 years. If he makes such suggestions, I shall make comparisons with what happened under Labour Governments, which would not show his party in a healthy light. There has been a 25 per cent. increase in real terms in overall funding for our national institutions and a 50 per cent. increase for building and maintenance. That was our response to the urgent demands of the chairmen and directors of those institutions. As I said, the corporate strategies have now revealed further priorities. For example, officials at the Victoria and Albert museum have said that they require £100 million over 10 years. I have already earmarked a minimum of £25 million for the next three years. The gap between what the museum requires and what it is likely to receive from the Government is not very large.