Concerns over proposed closure of Worthing Museum
The Museums Association (MA) has added its voice to the chorus of protest against the proposed closure of the Worthing Museum and Art Gallery. Worthing Borough Council has mooted the closure as a way of avoiding an increase in council tax...
Mark Taylor, the director of the MA, expressed 'serious concern' about the proposed closure in a letter to the council. 'If Worthing Museum closes, the borough will lose part of its history, and part of its identity', he writes. 'Other local authorities, faced with similar financial constraints in recent years, have looked at alternative ways of making savings. Some have entered into partnerships with other service providers, which can result in a much better museum service being offered at much less cost. We urge you and your colleagues to consider these options before closing such an important asset.'
The crisis has come about as a result of central government's 2.8% increase in funding to the council, which is not enough to cover its increased costs for the year ahead. Central government has also threatened to cap excessive council tax increases, leaving the council under the impression that it has no choice but to cut services.
In a survey sent out to local residents, the council asks whether residents are prepared to see the closure of the museum and art gallery, the local swimming pool, and some public toilets. The survey also offers residents the chance to approve a cut-back in the leisure development programme and the advertising and promotion budget for theatres, and for a hold on staff vacancies.
The average total council tax in Worthing is £17.84 a week. To keep the services as they are would cost an extra 35p a week on council tax - a total of £18.20 a year.
'We had to look at the budget as a whole, and Leisure and Cultural Services is the biggest spending section in the council, taking nearly £4.5m of the £14.7m net annual budget,' said John Thorpe, the assistant director of Leisure and Cultural Services at Worthing Borough Council. 'So the combination of the department taking the lion's share of the budget and providing a large number of discretionary services led to our decision to put those services in the survey.'
The museum first opened in 1908, and is described on the council's website as 'the jewel in Worthing's crown'. The museum's collection includes an enormous selection of Victorian ephemera, and an impressive display of English costume from 1700 to the present day.
Residents - and others - have until 30 January to make their views known to the council.
It should be noted that the mayoralty (the mayor's office) is also a 'discretionary' service. Unsurprisingly, it was not included on the list of potential cuts.