Norfolk museum collections to be cut to save cash

Norfolk's heritage is set to become an unlikely victim of the new age of austerity, with museums preparing for a rapid clear-out of up to a tenth of the county's collections to save cash.

Museum bosses have warned that their budget will be reduced by a third by 2014 as they make savings of �650,000 over the next three years and absorb a cut of �800,000 a year in direct government grants.

To try to cope with the cuts, museums are planning to accelerate the service's collections rationalisation programme – where objects are assessed and those not suitable for future display or study needs are found alternative homes or simply thrown away.

The Norfolk Museums Service holds some three million objects in its collections.

Some items could be sold or given to other museums, returned to the donor, used as set dressing in museum displays, sold at auction or, as a last resort, destroyed.

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The programme has been under way for the past five years, but a report which will go before members of the joint museums and archaeology committee on Friday says the process needs to be speeded up because of 'the unprecedented financial pressures' facing the service.

Bosses want to reduce the number of buildings used to the 'minimum necessary for the safe and accessible storage of collections'.

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They are also proposing cutting the amount of the budget spent on caring for collections, so the service can focus on keeping museums and study facilities open to the public. The target is to cut spending on collections care and storage by �130,000 a year by 2012/3.

Vanessa Trevelyan, head of Norfolk Museums Service, said: 'We have long had a good housekeeping programme to make sure we are not hanging on to those items that are irrelevant or could find better homes in other museums, but the cuts mean we need to accelerate that.'

She added: 'If we could keep every-thing, then we would, but there is only limited resources and we have to spend a good proportion of our income on people visiting the museums.'

She said a rationalisation project carried out at King's Lynn earlier this year saw every object find a home, either going back to donors or to other museums and organisations.

Mrs Trevelyan stressed the service would still keep and maintain collections which are representative of Norfolk's historic and natural heritage, but items which are poor quality compared to other examples, or which duplicate other items, would be likely to be identified to be removed from the collection.

James Carswell, cabinet member for cultural services at County Hall, said: 'Our proposals should mean that our reserve collections become more accessible to the public, and are also a sensible way of reducing costs and maintaining and preserving collections so we have items that are needed, wanted and cherished by everybody in Norfolk.'

As already reported, the museums service, which is run by Norfolk County Council in partnership with district councils, is also planning to move the costumes and textiles collection from Carrow House in Norwich to the Shirehall Study Centre, while the Royal Norfolk Regimental displays are due to be moved to the heart of Norwich Castle – on the Rotunda balcony. Those changes would save up to �120,000 a year.

A 'combination of reviews and vacancy management' is also set to shed staff, while admission fees for museums are likely to increase, although the exact hikes are likely to vary for each museum, depending on its performance.

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