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Museum's body to be abolished in 2012 and responsibility transferred to the Arts Council.


The Welsh Assembly Government's first strategy for museums to operate from 2010-13.

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United Kingdom/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.2 Heritage issues and policies

Detailed work on legislation commenced following the 2007 Government White Paper Heritage Protection for the 21st Century -which proposed the first widespread overhaul of the heritage protection system for nearly 25 years, including measures to strengthen the existing system for underwater cultural heritage. However in November 2008, the government announced the postponement of parliamentary legislation for heritage protection, but encouraged the continuation of non-legislative reform work. The first major milestone was the consultation draft in July 2009 of a Planning Policy Statement on Planning for the Historic Environment to replace the ageing Planning Policy Guidance notes on Buildings (No. 15) and Archaeology (No. 16). Work continues on reforming various aspects of the way designation of heritage is undertaken and the criteria for protecting heritage assets.

English Heritage and CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) are part of a project focussing on sustainable communities, in partnership with Arts Council England and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (see chapter 4.2.4).

DCMS has been working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families and representatives of the built and historic environment to support schools in using heritage resources to complement the curriculum. DCMS has also recognised the contribution of the historic environment sector in mitigating the effects of climate change.

In October 2001, a government-appointed Regional Museums Task Force issued a report, Renaissance in the Regions: a new vision for England's museums, calling for the establishment of a new framework for regional museums in England to reverse years of under-investment by local authorities. Renaissance is the MLA's programme to transform England's regional museums. Central government funding seeks to enable regional museums across the country to raise their standards and deliver real results in support of education, learning, community development and economic regeneration. The programme has received almost GBP 300 million since 2002.

An independent review of Renaissance by Sara Selwood (published in July 2009) acknowledged the flagship funding programme as the most important intervention in English non-national museums since the Museums Act of 1845. At the same time, the review criticised the Renaissance vision as lacking clarity, and for the absence of goals and a strategy for taking the programme forward. The Review paved the way for Leading Museums, MLA's National Action Plan for Museums, which was published at the same time.The 10 point plan seeks to encourage museums to make stronger contributions to the creative and tourism economies, and to develop learning and commercial partnerships. Among other things, the action agenda suggests government funding be targeted to reward excellence, partnerships between national and regional museums be enhanced and leadership skills be developed. Museums will be encouraged to develop a more strategic and sustainable approach to their collections, and the role of museums as international ambassadors is to be promoted. Responsibility for the Renaissance in the Regions programme, including the redesign of its content and operation, is to be assumed by Arts Council England in 2011, prior to the abolition of the MLA.

Since 1 December 2001 all museums and galleries sponsored by DCMS have offered free admission to their permanent collections. Seven years after free access was introduced, visits to museums which previously charged had risen from 7.2 million to 16 million in 2008/09 - an increase of 124%. The number of visits to all DCMS-sponsored museums was 40.3 million in 2008/09 compared with 24 million in 1997/98. Trend data collected between 2002/03 and 2004/05 shows that visits by lower socio-economic groups rose by 21%, or 1.2 million additional visits. The new government has indicated its commitment to continuing free access to national museums and galleries.

The MLA funds and encourages campaigns such as "Museums at Night" and "Kids in Museums", and the national cultural website for the public http://www.culture24.

In July 2006, Parliament published a report entitled Protecting and Preserving our Heritage. The focus of the report was on the built heritage environment and was followed by a second heritage inquiry (Autumn 2006) into museums, galleries, cultural property and archives. Although the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has issued a number of strategies for heritage (such as The Historic Environment: A Force for our Future, 2001, Protecting our Historic Environment: Making the System Work Better, 2003), the Parliamentary report identified a number of areas of concern and suggested that the DCMS approach to reform of the heritage protection system had been "less than energetic" (from recommendation 9). Amongst the issues identified in the 57 conclusions and recommendations were: a serious shortfall in funding for English Heritage (subsequently, in the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, English Heritage received its first increase in funding for ten years); a need for more resources for local authorities to pursue the greater responsibilities being placed on them; heritage to be represented better across government; a need to acknowledge the important role of the historic environment in regeneration projects and to support this economically; establishing some form of VAT relief scheme on repair work for listed buildings. It also encouraged DCMS to make local authority historic environment records statutory, undertake research to ensure the effective implementation of the Heritage reform programme and to urgently review / update planning policy guidance related to the historic environment and archaeology.

In 2004, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council introduced the Museum Accreditation Standard scheme, which replaced the Museum Registration Scheme (1988) and set nationally agreed standards for UK museums. To qualify, museums must meet clear basic requirements on how they care for and document their collections, how they are governed and managed, and on the information and services they offer to their users. The Scheme has been used as a model for museums overseas. MLA has administered the scheme in collaboration with the Scottish Museums Council, the Northern Ireland Museum Council and CyMAL in Wales. MLA has also run the Designation scheme, which identifies the pre-eminent collections of national and international importance held in England's non-national museums, libraries and archives, based on their quality and significance. The Scheme recognises that organisations with designated collections care for a significant part of England's cultural heritage. It was launched in 1997 for museums, and extended to libraries and archives in 2005. Both the Museum Accreditation Standard and Designation schemes are to become the responsibility of Arts Council England when the MLA is abolished in 2012.

The DCMS / Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund was set up in 2002 to improve the quality of displays, public spaces, environmental controls and access for disabled visitors in museums and galleries across England. The fund will make GBP 8 million available between 2011-2015..

In April 2008 the Museums Association and Local Government Association issued guidelines for museums on the disposal of items in their collections. The Disposal Toolkit was produced following several years of contentious decisions taken by some local museums (and others including higher education establishments) to raise revenue by selling works previously donated or bequeathed to them for their collections. Further information from:

In 2008, the MLA announced that resources of the nine Regional MLA Agencies were to be reduced to prepare for their inclusion in a single structure (to some extent following the precedent - if not the model - previously set by Arts Council England and the Regional Arts Boards in 2002).This restructuring was completed in March 2010.

In collaboration with The National Archives, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council has been leading a government consultation on the future for publicly-funded archive services in England and Wales. It is unclear who will assume responsibility for the MLA's strategic archive functions when it is abolished.


A Collective Insight, a national audit of museums and galleries, was published in Scotland in 2002 followed, in July 2003, by the Scottish Government's publication of An Action Framework for Museums. This recommended the establishment of a regional framework to develop capacity and sustainability of the cultural heritage sector through active partnerships. A Regional Development Challenge Fund - GBP 3 million over three years - was established in 2004. The same year, the Scottish Museums Council, funded primarily by the Scottish Government, published a National ICT strategy for Scotland's museums and the National Access and Learning Strategy for Museums and Galleries in Scotland.

The Scottish Historic Environment Policy (SHEP), the latest version of which was published in July 2009, sets out the Scottish Minister's strategic policies for the historic environment and provides greater policy direction for Historic Scotland. The SHEP sets out a vision for the future and a framework for the day to day work of organisations that have a role and interest in protecting the historic environment, including the Scottish Government, local authorities and the range of bodies that are accountable to Scottish Ministers, including Historic Scotland . It sits alongside and complements the Scottish Planning Policy and other relevant Ministerial policy documents. The document is viewable at


In Summer 2009, the Welsh Assembly Government announced its first strategy for museums. Development will focus on four priorities for the period 2010-2013: developing the visitor experience, promoting access, developing their collections and promoting sustainable organisations.

Northern Ireland

The Local Museum and Heritage Review (LMHR) report of 2001 sought to chart the best way forward for the heritage and museum sector in Northern Ireland. One of the recommendations of a joint response from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Department of the Environment (DOE) in 2003 was the establishment of an inter-agency Heritage Sub Group (HSG) to assist in carrying forward the key ideas of the two Departments, which included: establishing think-tanks to develop aspects of museums and heritage policy; enhancing links to cultural tourism and maximising the potential of heritage; promoting links to local government and other partners; and considering the strategic development of visitor amenities.

For more information, see
European Heritage Network: Country profile of the United Kingdom

Chapter published: 03-07-2015

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