‘Drastic’ state of trust finances threatens future of York museums

Inside the York Castle Museum. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
19 Aug 2020 @ 6.30 pm
| News

York Museums Trust will run out of money in January if it does not get emergency support.

The stark financial realities facing the trust are laid bare in a council report.

Without external help the trust would need to be wound up within months, and its assets – York Castle Museum, York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and gardens, and York St Mary’s – all closed.

Due to the Covid shut down, the trust has suffered “a drastic loss of income at the very start of the peak visitor season”. It faces a £1.54m deficit.

The report to City of York Council’s executive states:

  • Covid-19 therefore creates an immediate financial threat to YMT’s continued existence, and the trustees have now logged a serious incident report with the Charities Commission reflecting the fact that they will require financial support in order to remain a going concern.

    Without this they will run out of cash in January 2021.

Redundancy programme

York Art Gallery

The trust operates the museums on behalf of the council.

If it had to close, the attractions and their collections would revert to the direct control of the council, at an annual cost estimated to be £2.15m.

At the moment the council gives £300K a year to YMT.

YMT is planning a series of redundancies which will reduce its size by 20%. It has also embarked on a public fundraising campaign.

But even then the trust needs funding support of £1.35m this year, and up to £600k next year, in order to keep the attractions open and to continue looking after the collections.

The report says: “It is clear that the council must act to ensure that YMT remains a going concern as failure to do so will result in:

  • potential closure of the city’s museums and/or
  • the council facing a much larger financial cost if the museums are handed back to it.”

Council could face £2m bill

The trust also runs the Museum Gardens and the (still closed) Yorkshire Museum. Photograph: YorkMix

The UK government has pledged to support local authorities by covering 75% of their lost income from sales, fees and charges.

But because York Museums Trust runs the council’s museums, this funding will not apply.

So the council is proposing to write a letter of guarantee – promising to provide YMT with the funds it needs, up to £1.95m.

The hope is that, with other funding options available – including a share of the government’s £500m ‘culture recovery fund’ – the trust may not need to draw on some or any of the council’s guarantee.

If councillors reject this option, it could “result in all sites being closed until further notice and the winding up of the trust,” the report says.

“Given the importance of the museums and art gallery to the city this would be extremely damaging to the city’s recovery plans as well as to its long-term future as both a visitor destination and a city that provides excellent cultural opportunities for its residents.”

The report will be considered at the executive meeting on Thursday 27 August.