HC Deb 24 July 1986 vol 102 cc335-6W
Mr. Jessel

asked the Minister for the Arts what progress has been made in his review of the relationship between the Property Services Agency and the major arts institutions for which he is responsible.

Mr. Luce

In its eighth report (Session 1981–82) the Education, Science and Arts Committee recommended that the Minister for the Arts should review the relationship between the Property Services Agency and the major arts institutions for which it had responsibilities. The Government accepted that such a review would be useful (Cmnd. 9127). The review is now complete. It has been carried out by my officials in close consultation with the PSA and the institutions sponsored by my Department: namely, most of the national museums and galleries in England and the British Library.

At present, the PSA carries out the building and maintenance work at the national museums and galleries and the British Library's Crown property. The Office of Arts and Libraries allocates a block of funds for these services from its public expenditure programme. Within the funds available, the composition of the works programme each year is decided by OAL and the PSA in consultation with the institutions about their requirements and priorities.

The present arrangements partly reflect the origins of some of the institutions within Government Departments. But, following the Heritage Act 1983, all of them now have independent trustee status. It is anomalous that these indenpendent trustee bodies should have building works and services, which are of central importance to the functioning of the institution, excluded from their responsibilities and in the hands of a central Government agency. The review has concluded that such a division of responsibilities is not conducive to the most effective discharge of the trustees' role in determining their own priorities and allocation of resources, and achieving the best value for the money available to them. In the view of the Government, and of all the institutions concerned, it would be better to concentrate responsibility for all the costs of running the museums and galleries, including building and works services, in the hands of the trustees.

I have therefore concluded, with the agreement of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, that the institutions should not remain tied to the PSA for their works services. Instead, the Office of Arts and Libraries will allocate directly an annual grant-in-aid to each institution for building and maintenance work. The trustees will be responsible for its use, according to their priorities, and for achieving the best value for money. Major projects will continue to be subject to OAL approval.

In announcing this decision, my right hon. Friend and I wish to pay a warm tribute to the staff of PSA and its predecessors who have looked after these buildings over the years. The Museums and Galleries Group has justifiably earned an international reputation in this specialised field. But in the circumstances which now apply, the trustees of all the institutions concerned support this change. It is a major change which will require careful planning and management during the transitional period. Each institution will need to develop its own arrangements for discharging these substantial new responsibilities, and this will take time. My intention is that the institutions should assume their new responsibilities during the course of the financial year 1988–89.

The report recognises that the proposals may have implications for those museums and galleries which are not sponsored by my Department. It will be for the other sponsoring Departments to consider with the institutions and with PSA whether any changes in their arrangements should be made.

I have placed in the Library today a memorandum on the change, together with the review report.

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