Imperial War Museums under Covid-19 threat

Imperial War Museums laments a ‘lack of Government understanding’ as it details its financial woes in a written statement to the DCMS.

Imperial War Museums (IWM) is the latest organisation to announce that it has been thrust into financial turmoil as a result of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

In accordance with the movement restrictions and eventual lockdown, which began on March 2020, IWM closed all its sites indefinitely on March 17. Describing itself as “a family of five museums,” IWM includes the Churchill War Rooms, HMS Belfast moored between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, and the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth.

IWM relies on the income it receives from ticket purchases and donations at these sites, as well as public funding. The organisation has announced its intention to honour all contracts issued to IWM staff and external contractors.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS), announced on March 20, intends to support UK employers whose operations have been severely affected by Covid-19. But in a written submission to the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee (DCMS), which is investigating the impact of Covid-19 on the sectors within these remits, IWM highlighted a “lack of Government understanding of the complexity of IWM’s business model” in its support and provision to IWM amid the pandemic.

In its written evidence, IWM management specifies that the way IWM is accounted for within Government “assumes that all [its] money is Government money.” The organisation says that this has led to issues in IWM obtaining financial support from the CJRS as an Arm’s Length Body.

IWM’s public funding has fallen over the last ten years. Now, less than 40% of the IWM is publicly funded. Consequently, when Covid-19 forced its indefinite closure, the organisation lost 60% of its income overnight.

The statement adds that this lack of governmental understanding of IWM’s business model has created “constant delays” in the IWM being able to “apply for and action the savings.” This means that the IWM is only able to claim back a “small proportion of the losses expected from closure.” The submission goes on to detail that the DCMS has requested information from various teams across the IWM “extensively,” but that IWM has had “little to no comment or feedback received.” The organisation says that it is “unclear how these returns are used.”

IWM’s predicament is not unique, as the pandemic has prevented numerous organisations from obtaining the visitor numbers required to sustain their business models. Last week, Chester Zoo launched a social media campaign appealing for donations to support its 35,000 animals and the 80 global conservation projects which it funds. 97% of Chester Zoo’s income is derived from visitor revenue.

Public funding has generally decreased across the museums sector. In 2018, the Museums Association reported that 30% of its members saw a decrease in public funding in 2017. Only 14% reported an increase in public funding. Last year, the Association said that “museums have experienced a significant loss of subject specialist expertise as a result of funding cuts over the last decade.”

IWM’s management is now calling for a review of how the organisation is accounted for in government. It is also seeking a specific agreement about where the Grant In Aid is applied for businesses like the IWM which fall “in-between the camps of public sector and private business.”

More than ever, IWM is depending on its members’ support to ensure it can continue its mission of collecting and displaying objects and stories that give an insight into people’s experiences of war. There is the option for those who have pre-booked tickets for IWM Duxford, HMS Belfast, or the Churchill War Rooms to donate the cost of their ticket to IWM.

IWM also has its own JustGiving page, which has thus far raised more than £12,500 to support the organisation’s work sharing personal stories of conflict for generations to come.

Featured image: Victor Keegan/Flickr.


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