Great Yarmouth opposition to museum charitable trust plans

Councillors whose town is home to three of Norfolk's ten largest museums have mounted fierce opposition to plans to hand control of museums to a charitable trust.

Great Yarmouth borough councillors say the county council move could see the area lose its heritage as there is no guarantee Yarmouth would be well represented by trust members - with a minimum requirement of two Yarmouth representatives of a total 16 on the trust.

The town is home to the Elizabethan House Museum, Time and Tide and The Tolhouse and councillors fear unelected and unaccountable individuals may want to move the treasures they house to elsewhere in the county.

Michael Jeal, councillor for Nelson ward, said: 'What worries me is if we pass on control, what happens to the valuable assets that this town has?

'If they suddenly say 'we want to move half the Time and Tide' what then? They could move them where they want and I think Great Yarmouth people would be in uproar.'

Councillors were sceptical about the timing of the release of the report and of the way it was compiled.

Speaking at last night's full council meeting, Bernard Williamson, chairman of the scrutiny committee, said: 'The whole timing just suggests to me they want to bury this.

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'It was brought out at Christmas and now they've said we can discuss it.

'The consultants set up the documents, gave options of appraisal and then get paid to set up the trust.

'The whole model lacks robustness.'

The county council commissioned legal firm Winckworth Sherwood to explore the future of the service, and the consultants said the best solution was to create a charitable trust to run the museums.

But councillors involved in Yarmouth heritage have already challenged this and said the best solution is a local solution.

Michael Taylor, councillor for Central and Northgate ward, has been a director on the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust since the 1980s.

He proposed that the preservation trust, which he says has a strong track record, take on responsibility for museums instead of the charitable trust.

He said: 'These plans seem like they don't know what they're doing and they're not interested. We could be really visionary and create jobs in Great Yarmouth instead.'

Trevor Wainwright, leader of the Labour Group, called on the council to oppose the change to trust status or give serious consideration to the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust taking over the responsibility of museums in the borough.

But Barry Stone, cabinet member for Transformation, noted that the proposals are at an early stage and will not progress if they are detrimental to Yarmouth's museums.

'We would oppose trust status if it went against the benefits for Yarmouth museums,' he said.

Norfolk Joint Museums and Archaeology Committee, made up of county, city and district councillors, is set to discuss the recommendation to form a charitable trust when they meet on Friday, January 13.

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