Meetings of the Court of Governors - 19 November 1999

A meeting of the COURT OF GOVERNORS held on 19 November 1999 in the Court Room, National Museum & Gallery Cardiff.

PRESENT:

M C T Prichard (President); Alun Thomas (Vice President); G Wyn Howells (Treasurer); W Cleaver; Capt G Pari Huws; Dr R Bowen; J A Davies; G Humphries; C J Delaney; Cllr A Earle; Cllr G Jenkins; P Loveluck; H Looker; M J M Clarke; R H Poole; Mrs J Raum; R G Thomas; Cllr R Cass; Cllr J Phillips; H Jones; Cllr R W Hughes; Mrs A Carey Evans; Mrs A Wellington; Dr S Davies; Hon Jonathan Davies; Win Griffiths MP; P Thomas.

IN ATTENDANCE:

The Director; the Deputy Director; the Assistant Director (Public Affairs); the Assistant Director (Social & Industrial History)/Keeper MWL; the Assistant Director (Exhibitions & Interpretation); the Head of Finance & Audit; the Head of Administration and the Administrative Officer.

APOLOGIES:

Apologies for absence from the meeting were received from Mrs E Pritchard Jones; Dafydd Wigley AM MP; Barry Jones MP; K Mascetti; D Mansel Lewis; J Jones; J Pembridge; Sir R Hanbury-Tenison; D C Jones Davies; Mr F Lynch Llewelyn; C Grace; T G Jones; Cllr H Morgan; Dr N Edwards; Cllr J A

Harries; M McClaggen; Cllr D Eastwood; D Ken Jones; Cllr R F Davies; D Bowen Lewis; Ms S Crouch; Cllr P Larsen.

WELCOME:

The President welcomed members to the meeting and apologised for its earlier postponement. This had been due to discussions with the National Audit Office regarding the finalisation of the Accounts for the Year 1998/99 and to allow for a full and proper presentation of the Annual Report and Accounts to members.

Declaration of Interest

Councillor Phillips of the City and County of Swansea declared an interest in all matters relating to the National Waterfront Museum development; M J M Clarke declared an interest in all matters relating to Big Pit.

1 - MINUTES:

Resolved: That the minutes of the Court of Governors meeting held on 23 April 1999 be approved.

2 - DEVELOPMENTS:

Reported: That before the Director made her report the President wished to stress that whilst major developments such as the National Waterfront Museum Swansea, Big Pit and free access to children were understandably to the fore, they were sometimes achieved at the expense of other priorities. It was important to re-emphasise the continuing need to protect and develop the core activities of the Museum in collecting, researching, caring for, displaying and interpreting the collections it holds and to ensure that those who provide the funding are aware of the centrality of such often unrecognised work. It was vital that the public's confidence in NMGW as the trusted custodian of the nation's heritage be maintained.

The Director then reported to members of the Court on developments since its last meeting in April of this year. She hoped that the re-institution of bi-annual meetings of the Court by her predecessor had improved members awareness of the work of NMGW and would continue to do so.

(i) Industrial Strategy

Developments at the Welsh Slate Museum (WSM) largely funded by HLF were nearing completion. The re-located houses had been re-opened in July and had thus far proved very popular. For the first time a full time education officer had been appointed and had been a major factor in the Museum's success which had thus far seen an 11% increase in visitor numbers since April of this year, a 14% increase in admission income and near trebling of income via the shop and café. This should be compared with a general fall of some 6% in visitors to comparable attractions in north Wales.

Following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, work between NMGW and the City and County of Swansea (CCS) on the National Waterfront Museum Swansea (NWMS) had progressed well. There were four main areas which the Director chose to highlight:

  • A promotional exhibition had been installed in Swansea in time for the Royal visit in May and had then toured to both the Eisteddfod and the Royal Welsh Show and it was now touring other venues, including Museums within Wales.

  • An interactive website page was being designed allowing comments from virtual visitors via e-mail along with prompt responses. This approach had recently been pioneered by a project lead (in Anglesey) by the Archaeology and Numismatics Department, which had resulted in over 6,500 virtual visits over a three week period.

  • Outlined planning permission was being sought by CCS and an advertisement had been placed in the European Journal for the procurement of consultancy time both for the next phase of the development of the Museum and the overall Waterfront destination development.

  • The content and story lines for NWMS were also being worked up to encompass both the historical and contemporary viewpoint. Modern techniques of delivery were being developed with a variety of partners.

The final proposals for grant from HLF for development funds at Big Pit had been submitted jointly by Big Pit and NMGW and results were expected in January of next year. Emergency works which are already being undertaken have already attracted grants from HLF and Cadw and ERDF have granted funding of a two year marketing programme for the site. Whilst meetings to date have been positive the Director expressed some anxiety as to the revenue funding for Big Pit. The National Assembly would need to be persuaded to recognise Big Pit as a national site and to assume responsibility for the c£200,000 per annum currently provided by Torfaen County Borough Council in addition to its own contributions bringing the total contribution to some £400,000 per annum. It should be noted that the National Coal Mining Museum for England currently attracts DCMS funding of some £1m per annum.

(ii) Free entry

The policy of free entry for school parties had been an immediate success with a 12% increase to date in such visits across NMGW. The Assembly's Draft Budget indicated that they proposed to fulfil the Labour Party manifesto promise to fund free access for all children from 1 April 2000, although this still left Wales one step behind developments in England where funding for free entry for over 60's was planned for next year.

(iii) Acquisitions

The Specimen Purchase Grant of just over £1m per annum meant that few purchases during the year were made solely from Museum funds but rather that they were used as a mechanism for levering further monies into Wales by the Museum via organisations such as the NACF. Some of the major acquisitions throughout the year had been three Viking Age Burial grounds from Anglesey by A&N; the acquisition of a portrait by Zoffany and the "Actor" by David Hockney by the Art Department; the purchase of the Derwydd Bed or Great Bed of Rhys ap Thomas for the Museum of Welsh Life (MWL) and the donation by Bangor University of an important collection of Welsh insects which will make the Museum's collection definitive. Exhibitions in the period had also been successful, the Secret Spaces Exhibition having exceeded targets by some 25%, the Welsh Group by 16% and all other exhibitions had achieved or bettered targets. Over 10,000 visitors had already enjoyed the current David Hockney photographic exhibition.

A wide variety of policy reviews were either in preparation or were currently being undertaken covering such areas as loans, conservation and collections management.

Increasing the Museum's financial resources remained a priority and it was thus pleasing to report that the Development Department were on target to contribute more than £1m this year compared with a total of £300,000 last year.

The year had also seen a reconfiguration of the senior management team within NMGW a process which was still evolving. Directorate now consisted of the Director plus four other members. Eurwyn Wiliam was now Deputy Director, Ceri Thomas Assistant Director (Public Affairs) and John Williams-Davies the Keeper MWL and Assistant Director responsible for Industrial and Social History Museums. Michael Tooby has been appointed as both Keeper NMGC and Assistant Director with responsibility for the Museum of Arts and Sciences and will be joining the Museum in January from his current post as Curator for the Tate Gallery, St Ives. A new Buildings Officer and a Project Surveyor had been appointed during the year to manage and monitor our capital projects internally, as well as through the appropriate use of external consultants.

In addition, Directorate is supported by a Business Support Group comprising the Head of Finance & Audit; the Head of Administration; the Head of Human Resources and, an internal appointment, the new Planning Co-ordinator. A Senior Management Forum has been constituted consisting of senior managers and heads of departments from all sites and disciplines in the Museum.

Finally, a revised structure for the advisory committees of Council has been agreed consisting of three main committees - Collections & Education, Museum & Public Affairs and Finance & General Purpose. These committees are each supported by specialist panels. The Audit Committee will also meet quarterly.

The Director wished to take this opportunity to thank the staff, members of Council and the Officers for the help and guidance they have given her during her first year in post and she looked forward to their continuing support in the coming year.

Mr J A Davies congratulated the Director on the developments at WSM in particular and the holding of the last Court of Governors meeting in north Wales had firmly re-established the prestige of NMGW as a truly national institution.

Dr Bowen requested clarification on the establishment of a visitor centre at the National Waterfront Museum Swansea which had been promised for May 2000 and the Director confirmed that this was still the objective.

Councillor Earle wished for confirmation of the completion date for the National Waterfront Museum Swansea, that its contents had been agreed and that final funding was in place. The Director re-iterated that thus far only outline planning permission was being sought by CCS, the decision on which would be expected before June. With regards to funding the President confirmed that the sale of WIMM gave the Museum £4.5m and further funding for the development would be sought from sources including HLF and European funds. A timetable had been agreed with them for the submission of proposals and for its consideration. It was stressed that it was important that all the preparatory work be done properly to ensure that when the project did proceed it did so on a sound footing. In response from a question from Win Griffiths MP it was confirmed that it was hoped to appoint consultants for the next phase of work early in the new year.

In reply to a question from Dr Bowen it was confirmed that a 99 year Lease of the site of WSM in Llanberis had been agreed with Gwynedd Council.

Captain G Pari Huws expressed his continuing concern that since the demise of WIMM in Cardiff there was now little or no record of the industrial and maritime history of Cardiff itself and the role this had played in the development of Wales, especially as its capital. He felt that this should be addressed as a matter of urgency by either or both of NMGW and Cardiff Council. The President agreed that the matter would be discussed at the next meeting of the Museum's Council and Councillor Earle from Cardiff Council also agreed that it merited consideration by the City Council.

Resolved: Accordingly.

3 - ANNUAL REPORT AND ACCOUNTS:

Reported: That the President wished to draw particular attention to a number of events covered in the period of the report, in particular:

  • The debates which had continued over the Industrial Strategy of the Museum which were now bearing fruit in developments both in Swansea and Nantgarw.

  • The celebration of the 50th Anniversary of MWL which had attracted over 370,000 visitors (including Wales' largest ever single school trip) and culminated in a re-creation of the Battle of St Fagans on its 350th Anniversary. The year had also seen the re-opening of the refurbished St Fagans Castle by Lord Plymouth.

  • The Princes as Patrons exhibition at NMGC which had been opened by HRH Prince of Wales.

  • The retirement after a distinguished 5 year period as Director of Mr Colin Ford.

The Treasurer introduced his report on the Annual Accounts 1998/99. The Comptroller and Auditor General had certified that the Accounts gave a true and fair view of the state of affairs at NMGW and had signed the Accounts without qualification. The Accounts showed a deficit of £1.068m due in main to the transfer of £584,000 from Private Funds for the MWL 50th celebrations, developments of the Pyke Thompson Gallery and underwriting of the Princes as Patrons exhibition. Severance costs for the early retirement scheme had also amounted to £647,000. There had been an increase of £6m in tangible assets due mainly to the purchase of Nantgarw and the enhancements at WSM and National Museum & Gallery Cardiff (NMGC). It was confirmed that Year 2000 compliance procedures had been reported regularly to the Audit Committee and were in good order. The Treasurer however reported that the NAO had highlighted a breach of procedures in the payment of a sum to a former member of staff without written Welsh Office approval. This rendered the payment irregular although this was not deemed material by the Comptroller General. Councillor Earle sought reassurance from the Treasurer that such a breach would not reoccur. On behalf of the Officers the President agreed with Councillor Earles' sentiments that a Report which should have been a celebration of the Museum's activity had been diverted due to this unfortunate incident, for which he apologised. He emphasised that the former Director had believed he had authorisation for the payment and had assured both the Officers and staff of this. It was not until the NAO audit of the Accounts, in which the payment was appropriately recorded, that this mistake had come to light and the present Director made aware of the situation in late July. The Comptroller General commented that at this stage she acted both promptly and appropriately in seeking retrospective approval for this payment (which was not forthcoming). The President reassured members that procedures had been reviewed and new procedures to advise the Director had been established to the satisfaction of both the National Assembly and the NAO. Mr Paul Loveluck, as an Accounting Officer himself, commented that the circumstances had been unusual but that the overall cost had been relatively insubstantial and that such payments were a very difficult area for Accounting Officers to tread. Councillor Phillips hoped that this unfortunate matter could be put behind us. Councillor Earle proposed that, with the reassurances already given, the Accounts be accepted.

Resolved: Court agreed.

4 - DATE AND TIME OF NEXT MEETING:

Resolved: That the next meeting of the Court of Governors be held on 28 April 2000 in north Wales.

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