York Museums cuts jobs by 30%

The Museum Gardens were closed for much of the first lockdown period. They are currently open during the November lockdown

The York Museums Trust has confirmed that it has cut its workforce from 144 to 101 staff.

It hopes to reopen the Castle Museum and Art Gallery in December but the fate of the Yorkshire Museum is less clear.

The York Museum Trust is receiving £850,000 from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund. 

The York Council has also given a letter of guarantee to YMT, providing them with access to a maximum of £1.95m over the next two years, should it be required.

Trust statement

What’s on: Art explorations?


Date: Sat 14 and Sun 15 Nov
Time: 10.30 am start Sat; 12.30 start Sun
Venue: York Art Gallery
Cost: £60

This 2-day (8 hrs) workshop will allow you to explore the use of mixed media techniques in creating effective fur and feather textures in your artworks.

Drawing inspiration from the collection of the York Museum Trust & the taxidermy in the exhibition: The Lumber Room: Unimagined Treasures, curated by York artist Mark Hearld, we will explore and apply a variety of drawing and painting techniques using: watercolours, water-soluble crayons, pen and ink, and other colour media e.g. colour pencils, pastels etc in our bid to visually evoke the “feel of fur n’ feather”!

In addition, we will use more contemporary approaches such as gesso, and   texturing mediums with our paints/ paper, as well as basic printing methods   to further experiment with textural techniques.

Please bring drawing/paint media you wish to use (& any referred to in the course description above if you have them)

Also paper (cartridge / watercolour as appropriate), sketchbook, brushes, palette, water pot, and a sharp craft knife.
N.B. Some media and tools will be available for learners to use, however, it is suggested that learners bring a range of media with them, so that they can experiment on the day.
If learners wish to attend without any materials, a charge of £3 – £5 will be made for the use of tutor’s media.

Photographic resources of animals may also be used if you wish to bring them.

Refreshments will be available to purchase; a packed lunch would be advisable.

Also at the Art Gallery

Date: Wed 18 Nov : 12.30 – 1.30pm
The Lumber Room, free talk by Mark Hearld. No need to book. Admission fees apply.

Date: Fri 27 Nov : 2.00pm – 3.00pm
The Collector’s eye, free talk by collector Anthony Shaw. No need to book. Admission fees apply.

Art Gallery/Museums admission charges – compromise proposed

art gallery 19880sIt looks like the Council and York Museums Trust will agree a compromise on admission charges next week.

A report to an Executive meeting offers a number of changes to the original plan and could give residents a 50% reduction on costs if they are a regular visitor.

  1. The YMT Card (giving unlimited access) will cost just £10 for YorkCard holders (compared to £20 for a non-resident). Children up to 16 will be free
  2. Continued free access will be provided for York residents during the Residents‟ Festival and for other special occasions and events determined by YMT
  3. Those YorkCard holders who would have qualified for a discounted YMT card under (17-24 year olds and those on particular benefits) will now be entitled to a free YMT card.

In return for this provision, the Council will reimburse YMT £5 for each free YMT card issued with a target of 4,000 cards p.a. (Customers who have already bought an Access Card will be reimbursed by YMT)

 In addition, YMT have offered to make available free tickets to YMT‟s venues to vulnerable and hard to reach groups who would not otherwise make use of the museums and gallery.

Examples of the groups include:

  • People with mental health issues and their befrienders
  • Young carers
  • Residents of older person‟s homes and their carers

The deal means that many York residents would still pay an entrance fee of £7-50 for a casual visit. That’s a lot if accompanied by friends and family from outside the City, but not as much as may be charged in some other countries.

It is a shame that some way of merging the Yorkcard and Museums card could not be found.

In the end the Museums Trust and the Libraries (who issue the Yorkcard) may both be losers.

Arts Council gives York Museums Trust £1.23m each year

Details of the latest assessment made by the Arts Council of England on the Museums Trust have been revealed in a sheaf of correspondence released under Freedom of Information legislation.

click to access

click to access

The Arts Council assessment rates the organisation as “strong” or “outstanding” judged against a series of goals.

In addition to the Arts Council funding, the approved core subsidy (agreed by the then Labour led) Council was:

2014/15 (actual)

Revenue funding – £1,105,366

Capital funding – £1,250,000

2015/16 (commitment)

Revenue funding – £605,366.40

Capital funding-  £850,000

The correspondence reveals some confusion about an allocation of £500,000 in the Council’s capital budget. Although badged in February’s papers as for the “Museums Trust” it turned out the money was intended for completion of the remodelling of Exhibition Square. The Trust had hoped to hijack the funding to improve the gardens behind the Gallery.

The papers also reveal that the numbers using York Cards to gain admission to Trust buildings recently (the Art Gallery was closed during the period under review) were:

Castle Museum 01/04/14 to 31/05/15

Adults – 18,169

Child – 7,362

Young Person – 370

Yorkshire Museum 01/04/14 to 31/05/15

Adults – 10,337

Child – 6,512

Young Person – 98

The information provides some insight into how the Trust balances its books.  It may however reinforce the campaign for greater transparency in the working of Yorks growing army of QUANGOs (Museums, Libraries, “Make it York”, Theatre Royal, CYC Ltd etc.)

The paper also reveals that the Council doles out “VIP” invitations to events like the opening of the new Art Gallery. Traditionally Councillors have paid for any tickets received for events where there is – for others –an admission charge. Over the last few years  some Councillors have been slow to make hospitality declarations on their register of interests, although Labour raised the lower limit for such declarations to £50 per event three years ago.

Some of the correspondence will make a sobering read though for @nayre who is variously referred to in the correspondence as Cllr Nayre and Cllr Ayres (close relation of Pam no doubt)

Well Know poet

Well known poet

Well know Councillor

Well know Councillor


UPDATE Art Gallery to press ahead with plans to charge everyone £7-50 entry charge

50% discount on season ticket agreed for YorkCard holders

UPDATE: A trust spokesman has now said that “people with an existing York Card -including one bought today – would still be able to gain free admission to the Castle Museum and Yorkshire Museum tomorrow and until the card expired. Cards bought after today will not give the same benefits”.

Art gallery charges


A Press Release has confirmed that the YMT plans to charge residents £7.50 for entry to the Art Gallery from tomorrow, but they will offer all York Card holders 50% off the standard price of the annual “YMT Card”. That means that a YMT card will cost residents  £11 (£10 with a direct debit)

Children under 16 continue to have free entry. There is also a discount (to £4) for some claimants*.

In doing so the YMT will be in breech of the terms of the lease they hold on the Art Gallery and Castle Museum.

In our view they would have been wiser to continue to offer YorkCard holders free entry at least until the Council had considered the matter further at their September meeting (see UPDATE above

The YMT has not said whether it will make refunds to those YorkCard holders who had purchased season tickets before the latest discount was announced.

* Access tickets: up to 50% discount for visitors aged 17-24 or in receipt of Income-Related Employment and Support Allowance, Income–based Job seeker’s Allowance, Pension Credit or Income Support. Evidence may be required.

The York Council has not yet said when, or even if, it will commence legal proceedings to enforce the lease restriction

Cllr Nigel Ayre comments:

“It is surprising that the York Museums Trust has pushed on with its proposals. On Wednesday there was cross-party support for the charging plans to be halted ahead of further discussions taking place.

“However, I am pleased to see that following my decision last night the Trust has at least offered a 50% discount to York Card holders for the annual pass. This is a step in the right direction and an example of the further concessions we have been pushing for. It hopefully does give us a platform for further dialogue going forward.”

NB. The York Museums Trust is also seeking to appoint new Trustees. However intersted individuals only have until tomorrow (1st August) to submit their CVs

Art Gallery charges – decision in September

The Councils new more democratic decision makers decided last night that more information was needed before they could “clarify” the terms of its building lease to the York Museums Trust.

After an all party debate the responsible Executive member nodded through a proposal to defer the decision.

The YMT had planned to introduce admission charges at its new Art Gallery when it opens at the weekend. It is still able to do so, although the terms of the lease require it to provide free entry for York residents.

The Museums Trust will need to act promptly now to deal with the confusion as they are actively marketing an alternative (to the Councils Yorkcard) season ticket.

It is a shame that so far more formal records of meetings, which took place in the spring between the then Labour leadership of the Council and the Museums Trust, have not been published. Expectations on all sides might then have been clearer.  Incredibly some Labour Councillors are now claiming to be opposed to charging even though they – together with Green Party Councillors – voted through the cuts in subsidy in March – the decision which prompted the YMT move.

The Council has little in the way of moral high ground to retreat to on the principle of charging. It charged for Art Gallery admission when it directly managed the facility up until the middle of the last decade (when the Council was also mostly under Labour control).

Museum charges

Charges have always been levied at the Castle Museum (£10) and Yorkshire Museum (£7-50p).  There are no lease restrictions on the latter.

Children are entitled to free admission

As we have said previously, the Councils Executive member simply could not make a decision, on easing the restriction included in the lease,  without being clear about the impact on the Trusts business plan and without a public debate about all the options available.

There is also the wider issue of public access to the plans and results of York’s burgeoning number of QUANGOS. Others (libraries, economic development) depend even more heavily than the YMT, on taxpayers subsidies to keep them afloat. None publish details of their management meetings.

That charging decision will now be made at an Executive meeting taking place in 24th September

 What might happen, if the Council and YMT are not able to agree a compromise, is a moot point.

 If the Trust simply ignored the restrictive covenant clause, then the Council might ultimately terminate the lease. As the Council no longer has the capacity or expertise to run the gallery and museums, that could lead to their closure.

A legal wrangle about the enforceability of the lease clause could sap the resources of both organisations.

On the other hand, if the Trust demands money, to make up any shortfall in its income resulting from a decision to continue to allow YorkCard holders free admission, then the cash strapped Council would be unable to provide it.

Some compromise is required and quickly now.

Return of democratic debate in York?

Today sees the York Council take a faltering step back towards the kind of all party consideration of proposals not seen since 2008, when the Executive Advisory system was scrapped.

An all party meeting will consider whether to relax an agreement with the York Museums Trust (YMT) which gives Yorkcard holders free access to their galleries.

YMT charging report extract July 2015

As we said, when the report was published, we believe that important background information has been omitted from the report. Not least this would include estimates of the numbers of customers who might be effected by any changed arrangements together with the business plan assumptions being made by the Trust.

However this may simply reflect the dangers of outsourcing public services to quasi independent trusts and social enterprise bodies. Such bodies are able to source additional funding streams but transparency suffers. These may be similar problems with the arrangements now in place for the management of the libraries and economic development in the City (Make it York).

At the moment, the YMT provides an annual report to the Council and is subject to public questioning about their performance and plans. The last session took place on 22nd June

Today the proposal is that the Council clarify with the YMT that they can charge a discounted admission price to YorkCard holders. This would not require an amendment to the lease of the museum buildings (and consequently is not a “key” decision in Council terms). Any decision on charging levels would effectively be made by the YMT.

If the Council committee recommends that an estimated additional £400,000 subsidy be provided to “buy off” the charging plans (by reinstating historic levels of financial support) the Executive member does not have the powers to endorse such a proposal. It would become a “key” decision requiring a budget amendment and would have to be referred, via the Councils Executive, to the next full Council meeting (on 8th October).

Whether the YMT could sustain its operations in the interim might be a matter of conjecture. The new Art Gallery is due to open at the weekend. They would no doubt point out that 9 months had elapsed between the (then Labour controlled) Council making a decision to cut the subsidy and the Council addressing the consequences of its actions.

NB. When the Art Gallery was under direct Council control (until the middle of the last decade) an entry charge was levied. Admission numbers were low.

Museums/Art Gallery charges

art gallery 19880sThe first “open” decision being taken,  involving cross party debate, by the new Council, addresses the issue of charging residents who want to visit the Art Gallery and Museums in the City. The meeting on 29th July, is open to the public and there is an opportunity for residents to make representations.

Unfortunately, the background report is poor lacking basic statistics which are essential to fully understand what options are available.

It notably  fails to provide a breakdown of visitor numbers separating residents from others. A demographic breakdown is also missing.

Council officials have  not provided cost centre income and expenditure figures either historical or in business plan format.

They simply say that n additional Council grant of £700,000 would be required to continue “free” entry for residents.

Clearly the present Council have been dropped in a  hole by the previous administration which agreed to fund capital improvement works – the Art Gallery has been closed for 2 years now – in the belief that this would encourage more paying visitors (and thereby make up for a reduction in revenue grant of £900,000 over the last 3 years).

What is unclear is what agreement the Labour administration came to with the Museums Trust on the way that the reduced grant would be funded. The suspicion remains that Labour did a deal on the re-introduction of charges but were unwilling to publicise it before the Council elections.

So where next?

The York Museums Trust is now  a £10 million a year business following the decision, taken in the last decade, to transfer management responsibility for Museums and the Art Gallery to it.

Ironically when the transfer was made (the assets remain in the ownership of the Council) one of the Trust’s first acts was to scrap admission charges at the Art Gallery.  

That action has now returned to haunt them as they are seeking to impose a £7-50p entry charge when the newly refurbished gallery re-opens in the autumn

Compared to entry charges at other venues in the City (Minster is £10, Jorvik £10-25, Railway Museum – free) and  elsewhere in the world higher charges apply (Museum of Modern Art in New York is $25), the fee is relatively small. Under current proposals, York residents would get free entry on 2 days a year.

There is now no way back for the Council. Its budget was shot to pieces by the “gap year” antics of the last inexperienced Labour Leadership.

The, now coalition run, Council  is rightly trying to bring street level public service standards up to an acceptable (safe) level. It doesn’t have hundreds of thousands of pounds available to increase art gallery subsidies.

All that the new Council can hope to do is negotiate a reduced “casual” entry fee for YorkCard holders.  £5 might be regarded by many as reasonable, if children were given free entry.  

Such a concession might be seen as an acknowledgement of the 10% of its income that the Museums Trust gets from York Council Taxpayers.

If this meant non Yorkcard holder paying more, then we suspect few would complain.

But first the York Council and the Museums Trust must ensure that all the facts are on the table.