Hampshire Cultural Trust has said that proposed funding cuts by the council would lead to the ‘inevitable’ closure of multiple museum and arts venues across the county.

The trust operates museums, art galleries and arts centres including Milestones Museum in Basingstoke, Gosport Museum and Art Gallery and The Arc in Winchester. It also manages, conserves and maintains Hampshire’s museum collections.

Hampshire County Council, the trust’s largest funder, is currently providing £2.5 million per annum to the Trust.

The Trust claims, as part of the council’s recent budget review, that there is a proposed cut to funding “by nearly 50%”.

Paul Sapwell, Chief Executive at Hampshire Cultural Trust, said a cut of almost half would have “the potential to change the county’s cultural landscape permanently.

“Although I can’t confirm at this stage which venues will be affected, future venue closures across the county will be inevitable if a cut of this scale is agreed.

“We understand that like all local authorities Hampshire County Council is in an incredibly difficult position: they have a huge challenge to balance their budget.”

Sapwell urged the council “not to view a disproportionate cut to the funding of culture in our county as a simple solution to immediate budget pressures.”

The trust is responsible for 2.5 million objects, including the only item of clothing that can be directly traced back to Jane Austen, an internationally significant collection of ceramics and a nationally important industrial heritage collection from giants of local manufacturing, Thornycroft and Taskers.

The Trust says over 600,000 people visit its venues every year, including 15,000 school pupils, targeted projects reaching vulnerable groups, and young people who are not in mainstream education.

Sapwell continued: “Since we were established in 2014, we have already absorbed a real-time 50% reduction in local authority funding and have replaced that revenue through increased sales and fundraising activity, as well as substantially reducing our costs.

“Despite this, we will always be particularly vulnerable in a budget review of this kind, as museums, galleries and arts centres are not a statutory responsibility for councils.

“When times are tough, cultural experiences are so often seen as a ‘nice-to-have’, but stripping out what keeps people happy and healthy only saves money in the short term; it is well recognised that the pressure on health and social services only increases when services contributing to quality of life are cut.

“Successes such as The Arc, for which we took on operational responsibility in 2022, prove that there are opportunities where we can build on our strong relationship with the council for the benefit of our communities.”

Hampshire County Council said in a statement: “We are already working closely with the Trust to explore a more sustainable financial solution for them in future that would offer them more commercial freedom to generate their own income, independently from the County Council.

“This option could also mean that the Cultural Trust receives less funding from the Authority which would help towards us balancing our budgets and ensure available resources could be focused to support the most vulnerable people in Hampshire in the delivery of vital core services.”

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The Trust, which operates multiple museums in the county, claims a proposed cut of “nearly 50%” would lead to venue closures.