It will be “years” before Wales’ heritage sites such museums and historic houses are back to pre-pandemic income levels, a report has warned.
The Senedd committee report calls on the Welsh Government to urge the UK Government to continue the furlough scheme beyond October.
The Committee heard that this scheme is being widely used across the sector. 80% of National Trust staff, 25% of The National Library of Wales staff and 40% of National Museum of Wales staff have all been furloughed. As the scheme is rolled back this month there is a risk of redundancies the committee said.
“Our museums, archives and heritage sites are part of what makes Wales a great place to live and visit but COVID-19 and has put them at serious risk,” Helen Mary Jones MS, Chair of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee said.
“Their income almost disappeared during lockdown and many staff were furloughed.
“Although the furlough scheme helped short term, with the prospect of this scheme coming to an end many organisations could be facing redundancies. Throughout this inquiry we have heard from a number of organisations that their commercial income is unlikely to reach pre-pandemic levels for many years.
“We are therefore once again calling for the Welsh Government to urge the UK Government Treasury to continue their furlough scheme beyond October 2020.
“Although we welcome the Welsh Government providing funding to support the sector, the Welsh Government should use every penny at its disposal to help with this crisis.”
The ability of institutions to generate income once the lockdown has been lifted will be heavily curtailed, the report says. The furlough scheme will be needed for those sites which are not able to reopen fully given the need for continued social distancing measures.
The Committee is calling on the Welsh Government to spend the total £59 million of additional funding announced by the UK Government to support the heritage, arts and cultural sectors.
The crisis hitting this sector due to COVID-19 comes at an already challenging time for the industry. There has been a historic lack of capital investment and the National Museum told the Committee that they already had a capital maintenance backlog of £60 million, the report says.
Many organisations are giving access to their collections digitally during the lockdown, now the Committee is recommending that this digital work is properly planned and resourced. Digitising our collections also needs to be done with education and health providers to deliver outcomes for mental health and school curriculums.
On 5 July the UK Government launched a £1.57 billion fund to “provide a lifeline to vital cultural and heritage organisations” including £59 million for Wales. In response, on 30 July the Welsh Government announced a £53 million fund “to provide essential support to theatres, galleries, music venues, heritage sites, museums, galleries, archive services, events and festivals, and independent cinemas”.