They’ve had one of their most successful years ever, and visitor numbers soared to record levels in 2011 – yet, crippled by 2010’s funding cuts (which saw the closure of the National Conservation Centre) National Museums Liverpool has announced one in four jobs could be lost if a further £3million in savings can’t be found.

A decade ago, our museums were attracting 700,000 visitors. Last year, they attracted over three million. They are, without a doubt, the jewel in Merseyside’s tourism crown. And yet, despite the hugely successful launch of the Museum of Liverpool last year, our award-winning clutch of museums are facing some very stark choices.

“It’s very sad that, at a time when we’d like to be doing a lot more, we have to scale down,” NML’s Communications Manager Dickie Felton told SevenStreets.

Currently, a voluntary severance scheme is being offered to all staff members – this after a further 34 NML employees lost their jobs last year.

“We’ve been very vocal about how the Government’s cuts could affect us, but we’re committed to keeping our museums free at point of entry,” Felton told us. “We fervently believe, in a city as economically challenged as Liverpool, culture should be accessible to all.”

For the first time in a decade, NML has begun charging for special events such as the Dinosaurs exhibition currently on show – but, it’s feared, events like these won’t plug the funding gap and, as well as further job losses, NML fears that some display galleries could close to the public for good.

Dr David Fleming, Director National Museums Liverpool, said: “Our museums have just had their most successful year, but like everyone else in the public sector, the funding situation is very bad and it’s getting worse. It’s not possible to make the required savings without taking action that will have a significant impact on our visitors and staff. We will continue to look at alternatives but job losses are unavoidable.

“We will try to keep our museums open to the public. But it is with immense regret that we are considering closure of display galleries, fewer exhibitions, and admission charges for special exhibitions and events.”

There are other funding models, of course. Some of the world’s most successful museums have profitable – and inviting – restaurants that stay open fashionably late, many have big name sponsors securing a wing here, an exhibition there. There are others which are more ‘wedding venue with gallery attached’.

SevenStreets believes collaboration is key, too: could the Museum of Liverpool hold gigs and performances, now that the top of town is losing venues? Let’s face it, you can make a heck of a lot of noise at the Pier Head (as they did on the opening night).

Could we have fairs and exhibitions in the atria? Book Malcolm Gladwell to do a talk? Introduce night time opening for private parties? In isolation none of these will help NML out of its current predicament but together they may just form the rescue package they so dearly need.

In the meantime, next time you visit your local museum, don’t forget to stuff a fiver or so in the donations box. They need you now more than ever. Oh, and let’s hope developers Downing are enjoying that £750,000 windfall they uncharitably squeezed out of NML.

If you recall, they churlishly applied an ancient statute to complain that the museum blocks a cherished view of the former dock offices from the Port of Liverpool Building: sight lines that were protected by a little-known legal clause made in 1963.

Only in Liverpool, eh?

In place of Downing’s uninterrupted view of the Piermaster’s House is a museum that brought a quarter of a million visitors, and scores of jobs, to this once windblown and forgotten corner of the waterfront in two months last summer.

When you read of the Post’s upset at this latest blow for NML*, it’s worth remembering this: The Daily Post said Downing was right to extract ‘maximum value’ from this 1963 statute, saying ‘museums don’t drive economies’ (tell that to Bilbao). We disagree – and we’re not alone.

“Our museums help to bring in £48million in revenue to the city,” Felton says. “But, ironically, we don’t get to see much of that. It goes into the city’s restaurants, shops and hotels.”

Furthermore, a survey by England’s Northwest Research Service revealed that NML was worth £78.8m to the economy in terms of visitor spend, staff wages put into the local economy and spend with local suppliers.

Dr Fleming added: “A scaling down of our activity is bad for the economy of the city. But when we are faced with funding cuts the service we offer to those people will suffer.”

How many jobs would the £3/4million compensation to Downing have saved, we wonder? It’s in straitened times like these we have to make a choice – and that goes for those who complain about noise too – and the choice is clear.

It’s time to put the city first, or risk going back to the dark days.

“Liverpool needs to start getting its head around how business works,” said the Daily Post, in Downing’s defence, adding: “They should be applauded for giving the city a much-needed lesson in how the world of business works.”

Downing has indeed invested heavily in the city (and scrubbed up the Port of Liverpool building a treat). But this isn’t a case of culture or business. Liverpool’s culture is its business. It’s the one business model that’s served us well through the years of boom and bust. Blocking office workers’ views of the river is one thing. Blocking our chance to be a cultural powerhouse on the world stage is quite another.

http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/

David Lloyd

Main pic: Pete Carr

*Actually, The Post has simply reprinted a press release.