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thePipeLine can report that the petition launched by the trade union Prospect in an attempt to head off severe staff and service cuts in the Imperial War Museum Group is rapidly approaching 12,000 signatures, while a campaign update from campaign organiser Andy Bye has  also confirmed that Prospect has written to all members of the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee calling for an inquiry into the museum’s proposals.   Mr Bye also confirmed that the union would be widening the campaign in the next few days with a letter going to all MPs in an attempt to seek a debate on the proposed IWM cuts through the mechanism of an Early Day Motion and perhaps an MP led inquiry at Westminster.

Cuts to Government funding is central to the change process the IWM Group is currently undergoing.  In a letter to the IWM Trustees dated 3 July 2013, the former Secretary of State at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller informed the Museum that as a result of the Treasury spending round “Funding for the Imperial War Museum has been protected and will be reduced by just 5% in 2015-16.”  Financial analysts point out that when inflation is factored in, far from being protected funding the grant in aid for that financial year is actually being cut by over 6%.  Cumulatively the IWM Group will have seen its government funding reduced by almost 22% since the Cameron Government came to power in 2010.   However, a further major concern among campaigners is that there will be no real debate about alternatives to the cuts or the change process on the IWM’s governing Board of Trustees.

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Under the terms of the various Acts of Parliament governing the museum the President of the Board of Trustees is a Crown appointment, [the post is currently held by HRH the Duke of Kent] and seven members are the High Commissioners of the Commonwealth Governments of Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa and Sri Lanka.  Of the remaining fourteen posts, although the trustees are supposed to be appointed under the terms of the Nolan Committee Report on Standards in Public Life, the other trustees are appointed by respectively

The Prime Minister [10x members]
The Foreign Secretary [2x members]
The Secretary of State for Defence and
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. [1x member each]

Thus it is argued that Government supporters and insiders are over represented and it is also pointed out that the board contains no lay trustees to represent the Museum’s users and currently only one women sits on the board.

As a measure of what is at stake in any downgrading of the library service, the most recent Annual Report stated that during the accounting period 2013-2014, 3,600 users accessed the IWM library, archive and oral history collections for research purposes and states that the library collection contains over 320,000 items.  Meanwhile any cuts to education provision would seem to be self defeating given one of the principle justifications for the museum is its role in understanding conflict and that on the most recent figures over half a million of the IWM Group’s visitors were children under the age of 16.

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However, the fear is that research excellence is not the principle concern of the IWM senior management.  The 2013-2014 Annual Report also laid out the parameters under which the change plan was being designed when it stated

“It is a constant aim of IWM to find ways of working that will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of all areas. A strategic change programme will be driven by our Change Director, who be working with the Senior Management Team and HR Department to review our business needs, operational structures and business investment. This programme will result in substantial change to our level of fixed costs and will mean that over the long-term, we are able to build our financial resilience and create a sustainable business model.”

In other words the emphasis is on the Museum as a self supporting business and not as a unique and World Class archive and research resource, or even as a center for education and learning.  Thus, the museum and Government face the accusation that, as in other areas of national and cultural life, fundamental changes are being implemented with no real scrutiny or debate about the long term issues or consequences.



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thePipeLine is an independent news publication that investigates the place that heritage, politics, and money meet.

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