Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ouch. Again.

Meanwhile, over in "that country where everything sucks" (to quote Beavis and Butthead) Chancellor George Osborn finally announced his Comprehensive Spending Review, aimed at taking £80 billion out of the public sector budget over the next four years. You can read the whole thing here, if you want, although it doesn't make pleasant reading. Nick Clegg (remember him?) says that everyone's making a big fuss over nothing, because all that's happened is that public spending as a proportion of the economy in 2014-15 will be back where it was in 2006-7. It should be obvious to many people why this is a facile argument, but BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders spells it out very well in this blog post. The bottom line is that these are the largest cuts in public spending for 50 years and by the time we reach 2015, about 1 in 12 civil service jobs will have gone. Overall, estimates of public sector job losses are around the 600,000 mark.

What does this mean for museums? As we've already seen, there's been one early casualty in the form of the Museum, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), which was abolished in the "Bonfire of the Quangos." That means that there is now no single body responsible for museums in the UK and the MLA's programs will devolve back to various Government departments like Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). Apparently duplication of function across different departments is more efficient - go figure. The problem, of course, is that these departments have also had their budgets slashed. DCMS has lost 40% of its admin budget and has to reduce costs by £1.1 billion by 2014-15. One of the points highlighted in many reports is that despite these cuts, free entry to museums and galleries will remain. This is great in principal, but all that means is that the cuts will be applied where the public can't see them - the "business as usual" model beloved by many museum administrators. Want to bet on not seeing reductions in the level of collections care over the next 5 years? No, neither would I.

Some people of an optimistic bent will be cheered by news that the UK science budget has not been cut. Instead it's been frozen for four years, which is actually a real terms cut of around 10%, but from the amount of celebrating from British scientists you'd think they didn't teach math in British universities these days. Before any of you museum-based scientists get too happy about this, however, I would caution that Tories don't think what you do is science - they see it as more like a hobby. In their view, science is all about wealth creation. Museum research programs do contribute to the economic well-being of the nation in many ways, but these are mostly indirect. Conservatives' interest in scientific research are limited to two big questions: "Can you sell it?" and "For how much?"

By now, US readers will have long since tuned out, but if there are any of you left I would urge you, as I often do, to take notice of what is happening in the UK. With mid-term elections approaching, you are faced with a fundamental choice - a party that believes in public spending and another that doesn't. Take a long, hard look at Britain. This is what happens when a party that dislikes the public sector gets into power, and it's not pretty. And Cameron, Osborn, and that guy from the midget party no-one cares about anymore, are raging Trotskyites by comparison with their U.S. equivalents. You have been warned....

[BTW, for the lighter side of the budget cuts, my favorite are the two £5 billion aircraft carriers that are being paid for, in part, by cutting the planes that are supposed to fly from them. More here]

1 comment:

  1. The case of the useless aircraft carriers is a cracker even for the English government. Their continued existence is a strange mixture of vainglory and fear. Vainglory because most of the Tory party has atavistic dreams of empire and military glory. Fear because if they're cancelled, Scotland is lost to the UK for ever and such is the competence of the Ministry of Defence, cancellation costs more than building 2 unnecessary boats. Still the royal family's ability to undertake military role posturing for which they are quite incompetent can be allowed to flourish.