Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ouch

I've just returned from two weeks in the UK, where they are still digesting the likely impacts of the coalition goverment's first budget. I'm not going to dig through it in any detail, but for those of you who are interested here is a pretty good synopsis, albeit one that reflects my predjudices. In a nutshell, the Conservatives and the Other Conservatives (as I think we can now call the Former Liberal Democratic Party) have chosen to go for an aggressive program of deficit reduction, fearing that the UK may be vulnerable to a Greekonomic financial collapse if they don't do so. As part of this scheme they are proposing one of the biggest reductions in the public sector that the UK has seen for decades - a 25% cut in departmental budgets over the next four years.

I'm not one to say "I told you so" (even if I did) and in fairness I should point out that had Labour won they also would have imposed cuts, although their proposed schedule was nothing like as aggressive as that proposed by the Tories. But one can't help thinking that Osborne et al are relishing the prospect of swinging an axe at state funding, while being able to look sorry about it and talk about the need to tighten belts, etc. Since the earliest days of Thatcher the Conservatives have never liked the public sector believing, in the absence of all evidence to the contrary (e.g. the UK rail network), that the private sector does things better.

What's the likely outcome for UK museums? We won't know until the Fall, but I'm going to make another surefire PoH prediction and say that it will probably not be good. Bear in mind that the proposed cuts to department's budgets will average 25% - some areas have already been ringfenced from cuts, notably international development and the National Health Service. Before those of you of a liberal bent get all excited about the former and start saying "oh well, they can't be all bad," bear in mind that overseas aid is a tiny portion of the UK budget. Protecting it from cuts allows Cameron to behave sanctimoniously at the G20 and is a small figleaf on top of a massive mountain. The effects of protecting the NHS will be much more widely felt and if (as seems likely) the government is forced to backtrack on proposed cuts in defense, education, and policing, then the remaining cuts are going to fall very heavily on departments like the Museums and Libraries Commission and the scientific research funds admininstered by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Is there any good news? Well, if you want to volunteer in a museum, I'd say the omens are looking pretty good. One of the more bizarre ideas being kicked around by the Government is that trainee police officers should work without pay for their first year of training. If a Tory goverment is thinking about doing that to coppers, what do think the outlook will be for museum workers?

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