The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport does not know how much funding the national museums it sponsors need to keep their historic structures in good shape for the long term, according to the National Audit Office.
A report from the public finance watchdog published last week looked at the 15 institutions DCMS is responsible for, including: the British Museum; the National Portrait Gallery; the Science Museum; and the Victoria & Albert Museum and their related estates, parts of which date back to the 17th century.
It noted that the department expressed concerns over the maintenance of its museum estate in a 2017 report, and last year established risks identified with its museums related directly to the need for repairs, or funding for such work. However, the report says DCMS “does not collect the information necessary to quantify the funding required to address the maintenance backlog in the long term” with the museums, which are effectively arm’s length bodies.
The NAO said: “Although some museums choose to share information, the department does not formally require museums to provide data on their maintenance backlog, their current level of maintenance spending or the level required to avoid the backlog increasing.”
According to the watchdog, while information about spending requirements comes in submissions for capital funding during Spending Reviews and other funding rounds, submissions from museums only provide information relating to the timeframe and project types specified by the department.
“They do not give a complete picture of the museums’ backlog of estates work, and some museums told us their full backlog of works is greater than that included in their submissions,” the NAO said.
“Others said they do not know the full extent of their backlog.”
The report acknowledged that DCMS had secured additional funding of £42m in 2019-20 and 2020-21 through its maintenance fund, which is sourced from underspends elsewhere in the department. But it also noted that grant-in-aid received by the museums decreased from £361m in 2010-11 to £333m in 2018-19 – a real-terms fall of 20%.
The NAO did not provide recommendations, but said its report aimed to shed light on issues that had come to light through its financial audit work with museums.
“We have identified similar challenges in maintaining estates in other public sector bodies, such as prisons, schools and the NHS,” the report said.
“Available data did not support calculating an estimate of the cost of rectifying problems with the estate, and we considered constructing such an estimate beyond the scope of this investigation.”
The NAO said one example of museums facing problems with their estates included the Wallace Collection, where a piece of masonry fell from the portico in 2018 because of the deterioration of supporting beams. Another was the Science Museum Group’s Manchester site, where the Power Hall has been closed for urgent repairs.
DCMS had not responded to CSW’s request for comment at the time of publication.