Federation response to White Paper on Local Government Reform

Apr 11, 2017

The Federation welcomes the White Paper ‘Reforming Local Government: Resilient and Renewed’’, in particular section 2 on Regional Working.

In 2014 the Welsh Government commissioned an Expert Review of Local Museums in response to the difficulties being faced by local authority museums in the face of decreasing resources.

The report was published in 2015, and the first of its 10 recommendations was:

Welsh Government, in partnership with Welsh Local Government Association, to create three Regional Bodies to provide operational direction, management and support to locally delivered museums.

All the recommendations have been endorsed by the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure who has responsibility for museums and culture.

Regional working is an important aspect of the report, with the expert panel seeing this as a way to address the underlying issues within the Welsh museums sector: insecurity of funding, loss of skills and expertise, lack of investment to ensure museums are fit for 21st century visitors (local and tourist alike) and insufficient support and resources to ensure community engagement and participation is meaningful and sustained.

The emphasis on regional working within the White Paper is therefore very timely. The proposed ‘tests’ (section 2.2.1) to inform if Regional Working is appropriate across a variety of disciplines//work areas is welcomed. A brief assessment of the tests shows that museums are particularly suitable for working across wider areas.

Whilst we understand the Welsh Government’s focus on certain major areas that are suitable for Regional Working (either required or needing further work), the omission of museums is surprising given the previous work of the Expert Panel and the recommendations that have been endorsed by the Cabinet Secretary. It has already been ‘demonstrated’ that museums are a strong contender – their size in this context is important, as testing the validity of regional working  would be much easier, and potentially  be a ‘quick win’ situation.  

The White Paper suggests that pooling contributions from constituent local authorities is the most practical solution to undertaking regional working. Whilst this seems reasonable we are concerned that pooling the very low level of existing funding for museums might not be able to deliver the expected outcomes on a regional basis. In these circumstances should some alternative or additional arrangements be made (for example, modest intervention from Welsh Government perhaps) to ensure viability?  

Museums have demonstrated that they are willing to work in partnership across local authority boundaries, and are anxious to continue. Previous voluntary attempts at regional working for museums have not progressed beyond short term projects, so the recommendation in the White Paper gives some hope of ensuring the long term sustainability of museums in Wales. 

The Federation urges the Welsh Government to consider museums within the early stages of partnership working as outlined within the White Paper.