Belfast Telegraph

Arts cash cut may force library and museum closures

By Noel McAdam

Museums and libraries in Northern Ireland are facing further drastic cutbacks — and potential closures — as public spending cuts deepen, senior Government officials have warned.

Members of the Stormont committee which monitors Arts and Culture Minister Nelson McCausland have been told shutdowns or significant drops in the level of service “will be necessary” to meet the required level of cuts.

The province’s museums and libraries are particularly vulnerable because the bulk of their costs relate to staff — so job losses are an arguably easier way of finding savings.

And there are fears expenditure on museum and library services, which has expanded “quite steeply” in recent years, is to shrink back to 2004/ 5 levels, a top departmental figure told the committee.

A spokesman for the department said yesterday: “At this stage no decisions have been taken and implications are being assessed.

“However, we will not know the outcome for Northern Ireland until the budget announcement on October 20 which will be subject to Executive decisions on allocations to departments.”

Edgar Jardine, deputy secretary of the Department of Culture and Arts, said: “Libraries and museums are very staff-intensive and account for 80% or 90% of the budget. When one has to make the cuts that we are being required to make, it is inevitable that there will have to be a reduction in staffing.

“One cannot cut out that amount of resource from non-staffing elements.

“Expenditure, which went up quite steeply after 2004-05, will go down again to 2004-05 levels. However, the reduction is very significant.

“I do not recall a time in my career in the Civil Service when we were hit with such reductions, even in the recessions back in the 90s,” Mr Jardine added.

The department calculates if it is hit with an 18% cut — a figure mentioned by Finance Minister Sammy Wilson — it will also need to lose around 40 staff members.

Deborah Brown, director of corporate services and finance in the department, warned this would have “a significant impact on our ability to continue to support our arm’s-length bodies (which include the Arts Council and Sports Council NI) and deliver on our statutory functions. Those are very broad figures.”

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