Norfolk councillors to get say on museums’ trust plan

A scheme which could see Norfolk's museums run by an independent charitable trust is to be debated in public for the first time next week.

Members of the country council's joint museum committee will be asked their views on the idea which could see a trust take over the running of some or all of the county's 13 museums. County Hall is looking at the option as a way of maintaining investment in the �4m-a-year service at a time when budgets are being cut. But there have been accusations that members are being kept in the dark about the scale of the plans, amid suggestions they could see a link up with Colchester and Ipswich and herald a loss of local democratic oversight.

Lawyers Winckworth Sherwood have been instructed to assess options and are believed to have ruled out creating a limited company or running the service as a mutual. They are set to finish their work by the end of the month and report back to councillors in the autumn.

James Carswell, cabinet member for cultural services, said in the light of the financial crisis, it was absolutely essential to consider new and imaginative ways of working and the trust was a win-win financially because it would save around �160,000 in rates bills and open up new sources of funding.

The meeting on July 15 will consider the success of a similar scheme in York which became a trust in 2002 and has since seen visitor numbers increase and more investment.

'No decisions have been taken - and none will be - for some time yet because we want to test out all the potential pitfalls, as well as the advantages,' he said. 'We have already begun discussions on the concept with our partner councils, museums staff and union representatives.'

But Labour's George Nobbs said the York scheme was a false comparison because it only included museum's in the city area.

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'What they are talking about here is a trust for Norwich, Ipswich and Colchester,' he said. 'We are not comparing like with like, but at least this will be out in the open where it should have been in the first place.'