THE Senedd’s Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee is launching a report highlighting the crisis in the heritage sector. The Committee is calling for the Welsh Government to urge the UK Government to continue the Job Retention Scheme (furlough scheme) beyond October.
With the UK Government starting to roll back the furlough scheme from this month (August), the Committee heard that this scheme is being widely used across the sector. 80% of National Trust staff, 25% of The National Library of Wales staff and 40% of the National Museum of Wales staff have all been furloughed. If the scheme is discontinued there is a risk of redundancies.
The ability of institutions to generate income once the lockdown has been lifted will also be heavily curtailed. It is unrealistic to expect receipts to cover all future expenses, the furlough scheme will be needed for those sites which are not able to reopen fully given the need for continued social distancing measures.
Throughout this COVID-19 inquiry, the Committee has heard from a number of organisations that their commercial income is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels for many years.
On 5 July the UK Government launched a £1.57 billion fund to ‘provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations’ including £59 million for Wales. In response, on 30 July the Welsh Government announced a £53 million fund ‘to provide essential support to theatres, galleries, music venues, heritage sites, museums, galleries, archive services, events and festivals, and independent cinemas’.
The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to spend the total £59 million of additional funding announced by the UK Government to support the heritage, arts and cultural sectors.
The crisis hitting this sector due to COVID-19 comes at an already challenging time for the industry. There has been a historic lack of capital investment and the National Museum told the Committee that they already had a capital maintenance backlog of £60 million.
Many organisations are giving access to their collections digitally during the lockdown, now the Committee is recommending that this digital work is properly planned and resourced. Digitising our collections also needs to be done with education and health providers to deliver outcomes for mental health and school curriculums.
Helen Mary Jones MS, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee said:
“Our museums, archives and heritage sites are part of what makes Wales a great place to live and visit but COVID-19 and has put them at serious risk. Their income almost disappeared during the lockdown and many staff were furloughed.
“Although the furlough scheme helped short term, with the prospect of this scheme coming to an end many organisations could be facing redundancies. Throughout this inquiry, we have heard from a number of organisations that their commercial income is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels for many years. We are therefore once again calling for the Welsh Government to urge the UK Government Treasury to continue their furlough scheme beyond October 2020.
“Although we welcome the Welsh Government providing funding to support the sector, the Welsh Government should use every penny at its disposal to help with this crisis.”