Closure

Facts and figures, 2nd November 2005

Projected minimum costs to enable me to keep the museum open to the end of March 2006, when visitor numbers are usually sufficient to pay bills as they are due, is around £12,500. This figure includes direct museum bills such as heating, lighting, business rates, insurance, water rates, accountant fees, building rent, telephone, etc. and indirect bills, i.e. my 'salary' which pays my income tax, national insurance, council tax, mortgage, home electricity, phone, water rates, heating oil, insurance, pension (which currently would pay me less than my council tax thanks to Gordon Browns' 5 Billion pounds a year take from the pensions industry), professional fees and subscriptions - my wife works to pay the rest of the household bills.

Estimated income over the same period from museum entrance fees and talks I give in the evenings is £1900. Adding this to the current bank balance of £4884 gives £6784 which leaves a deficit of just under £6000. I am self employed so this figure does not include income tax due for this current year which is estimated at £4400, however, this figure has been estimated from the previous years results so it should be a lot less. I and various agencies have tried without success to get help to no avail, the usual chestnuts of 'it's a private museum' and 'Lottery does not give grants to private individuals or money to keep things going' being the response. Rules are often being broken, two such instances are: the very first lottery grant broke the only two rules it had when the Churchill papers were purchased from the Churchill family (£14.2 million) and in November 2005 the lottery gave £1.45 million to the National Maritime museum in Falmouth (opened 3 years previously costing £28 million) because 'it faced a cash crisis when visitor numbers dropped below expectations'. This museum needed £6,000 to keep it going for a year and £30,000 to pay off the loans and form a trust. I have no means of bearing debts such as these so the museum will close down at the end of November.

For almost 20 years the museum has been a source of pleasure, learning and inspiration for everybody from pre school age to octogenarians. It is regularly used as a resource for researchers for books of all types, films, TV, radio, teachers, projects for schoolchildren and those in higher education and as resource material for many National Curriculum topics. This web site will continue until the current subscription to the server runs out.

On a personal front it is extremely frustrating having spent many years not just dreaming about doing something but actually doing it, in the process winning a national award and being honoured by an MBE (for services to the museum), only to see it close due to circumstances that are really beyond my control. It is also very frustrating when I see the vast amounts of lottery and taxpayers money being thrown at national and local projects, schemes, grant aid, start-ups, etc. - and even more so when they fail to meet expectations or close down; the Millenium Dome alone has currently cost us taxpayers over £30 Million just to sit there empty for the last few years.

Rod Moore, MBE

 

6th September 2005, a brief summary of what has happened in the last few years that has led to the crisis.

This museum has always operated on a shoestring living almost constantly on a hand to mouth basis. I built the museum by myself and run it single-handedly seven days a week as I cannot afford to pay even a 16 year old the minimum wage. Visitor numbers have fallen steadily following the introduction of cheap air fares but fell even more when the government increased fuel duty to levels that precipitated petrol shortages and social unrest. Cumbria, which includes the Lake District, is a holiday area having very few residents for its size and as 90% of visitors to the museum live outside the county it shows how dependent the museum is on tourism.

At the time of the petrol crisis visitor numbers plummeted so I wrote to the local authority to ask for help by using their discretionary powers to not collect all the business rates payable. The end result was a greatly increased bill following a revaluation by the Valuation Office even though the museum had not long before been revalued along with the rest of the country. In spite of asking I have no idea why there were changes in the valuation, how the figures produced by the Valuation Office were calculated or why the increase was originally over 300% but fell to around 70% increase when I said I wanted to appeal. Being over the legendary barrel I had no option but reluctantly accept the increase. Remember this was after asking for help.

In parallel with the above the Government deregulated brown tourist signs and the key brown sign across the road from the museum entrance was replaced, against my will, with a small black fingerpost 'to fit in with the other signs being erected'. I objected and was told the authority was legally obliged to replace the sign as I had purchased the original one and that if I did not like the replacement it would be taken down and scrapped. The museum is in a courtyard accessed from the main road by a narrow passage. Originally there was through access to the road at the back of the museum but following conversion of an old garage to a house the through way was blocked off. Loss of this crucial brown sign means the museum is now difficult to find as the black finger post is almost invisible. The museum is not on the brown signs at the entrances to Cockermouth because I could not afford the price being asked by the Highways authority.

Immediately following the events above, Foot and Mouth struck. The government did nothing so the disease spread rapidly. The government closed footpaths and told people not to travel, overnight, visitors disappeared totally. Over the next few months the government opened and closed a few footpaths but no one was sure which as conflicting information was given by the same department on different days to the extent that as no one knew what to do visitors stayed at home thinking this was best thing to do. I was about to apply for the relief forms when it became apparent that the small amount of money given by the government had run out. I applied for the second round of grants for repainting the museum, getting on to the Internet with a modern computer and taking over an extra room for storage and school visits use. The total involved was around £4,700, well below what I could have asked for. The application was rejected as the person from Business Link (the agency responsible for allocating grants) who came to see me did not know how to fill in their form which concentrated solely on Hotels and Bed & Breakfast establishments - how many people cancelled next week, next month, etc. Who books to come to a museum? I appealed citing educational use, bringing tourists to the area, etc. and that the only criteria being used for grant aid was comparing income from F & M year with the previous year - the year which had been drastically influenced by the petrol strikes.

I wrote to the local MP, the County Council and Cumbria Tourist Board to ask them to back up the museum in its grant application. The MP said he would come and in true political response to my letters told me all the things I had written in my letters to him. The County Council official said they could not help. CTB phoned to tell me to apply to them by return as they had been given money to buy computers to get B & B's on the Internet but any unallocated money would be reclaimed in a few days time! At the end of January the year after F & M started I was finally told the museum had not lost enough money to qualify for a grant. The MP finally came to the museum for a family visit on Mothering Sunday the year after F & M.

It cost me over 3 weeks solid work in producing a business plan, forward plans, form filling, phone calls, letters and getting quotations for paint, etc. (I was going to do most of the work myself). All for nothing. How much did it cost to set up and run, provide salaries, offices, etc. to administer all this? All part of the 500,000 plus this government has given jobs to. So much for 'Best Value'.

Farmers, and this is from the Lessons Learnt public enquiry, were given high levels of compensation to ensure they co-operated. I was actually one of a few Cumbrian people invited to give evidence to the public enquiry. We were politely listened to then virtually all of that we said was ignored being summed up as 'tourism was also affected'.

At almost the same time as F & M started the government introduced Climate Change Levy tax on energy used by businesses. Overnight this added almost 20% to the museum running costs for light and heat. This tax has a sting in its tail just like petrol duty where a tax is added to the basic item cost then VAT is added to the total - a tax on a tax.

The year after F & M, Allerdale, our local Borough Council, made all their tourism staff redundant and tried to close the three museums they run 'to save council taxpayers money as tourism is not a legal necessity to be provided by the council'- and this in a county where around 40% of its workers are either directly or indirectly working in or for tourism! Not long after this Allerdale, as with many other local authorities, took over traffic warden duties from the Police. Issuing parking tickets is an easy way of making money in the same way speed cameras do. Locals, and many visitors, are being given fixed penalty tickets for the most minor of technical infringements. At the end of the first year the local paper asked for a breakdown of how the £524,000 raised in fines had been accrued. The local council declined but eventually were forced to give a token account under the freedom of information act.

The Government made much hype of making museums free entry. Unfortunately they forgot to say it was only the top dozen or so national museums that were to be given grants to enable this and that the money for it was coming from taxpayers. Many people come to this museum (and this is not unique to here) expecting it to be free and even after explaining why they have to pay still do not come in.

Visitor numbers in the area and to the museum have fallen steadily over the last few years for the reasons mentioned above but also due to more choice as new attractions have opened around the country, often funded by the Lottery.

Public liability 'no win no fee' type claims was one of the reasons the museum insurers doubled the premium at renewal. This was a four figure increase and was a huge unexpected blow coming out of the blue on top of all the other problems.

At the end of the summer holiday period I estimate the total required to pay all bills until the following Easter when visitor numbers pick up. In 2004 income just met expenditure. As I write this at the beginning of September receipts are currently over £2000 down on last year. After allowing for projected admissions between September and March there will be a shortfall of around £3000 to pay all the bills anticipated due before next April so I will have no option but to close the museum, probably at the end of November. The exhibits currently on loan are being returned to their owners.

Rod Moore, MBE

18th October 2005

Since writing the above an offer of help has been made to help advertise the museum next year. TV, radio and press publicity about the precarious state the museum is in has brought in some extra visitors so that September numbers were similar to last year, thus temporarily reversing the trend of declining numbers. October has been bad, only four visitors last Sunday, two of whom said the entrance fee was too much and walked out.

Two more nails in the coffin:

I had hoped that half term in October would also bring in sufficient numbers but the Highway authorities have decided to close the road outside the museum entrance in order to resurface the road. When the pavement was resurfaced some months ago access was almost non exsistant at times and visitor numbers dropped alarmingly. Being effectively cut off in the middle of road resurfacing will certainly put even more people off visiting.

This morning I received the Cumbria Tourist Board newsletter, the front page article is very concerned that the Lake District National Park Authority is wanting to close the Tourist Information Centres they operate in order to save money. Presumably as the LDNP is part funded by the government they have been told to reduce spending and as the TIC's are an overhead savings can be made by their closure. How short sighted can anyone get? I would have thought the furore and negative publicity over the recent fiasco of scrapping the guided walks would have been enough for them to tell their funders in no uncertain terms what real life is about. Short term penny pinching cutbacks and 'savings' of this sort can only mean future long term problems.

Two heartwarming rays in the murk:

I have had one offer from a regular 8 year old visitor of the contents of his money box to stay open and I understand pupils from one of the local schools have written to the town council.

If you think you can help the museum in any way please get in touch.

RM

       
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