First Minister of Wales defends cuts that could lead to national museum closure

Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government faced ‘difficult choices’.

Vaughan Gething was speaking at his first press conference since becoming First Minister
Vaughan Gething was speaking at his first press conference since becoming First Minister (Ben Birchall/PA)

The First Minister of Wales has defended funding cuts that could lead to the closure of Cardiff’s national museum and the loss of at least 90 jobs.

Vaughan Gething was speaking at his first press conference since becoming First Minister of Wales, which was held at Coleg Gwent’s campus in Ebbw Vale on Monday.

During a speech to engineering students, Mr Gething described how his priorities were the NHS, steelworkers and farming – issues he said needed “urgent attention”.

He said his cabinet would have a “relentless focus on a core set of priorities” that mattered to Welsh people, with the NHS at the top of the list.

Mr Gething spoke of “radical steps” he would take to improve public transport, as well as improving educational attainment, reducing poverty, and strengthening the economy, including through a “green industrial revolution”.

During questioning from journalists, Mr Gething was asked about comments by Jane Richardson, the chief executive of Museum Wales, who warned that the National Museum Cardiff could close and at least 90 jobs could be lost following cuts.

He replied: “I think this neatly highlights when we’re talking about priorities and the reality of our budgets after more than a decade of austerity.

“When we set out in our budget our priorities, that we’d prioritise health and social care, and local government, that meant there were much more difficult choices to make across the range of the government.”

Mr Gething said there were “difficult choices to make” across any area that had public funding.

“If the NHS really is our priority, and we’re going to invest in it, you can’t have that as a consequence free for every other area of public life,” he continued.

National Museum Cardiff is one of seven sites managed by Museum Wales
National Museum Cardiff is one of seven sites managed by Museum Wales (Alamy Stock Photo)

“We’ve set out that there would be reductions in some areas, and that’s painful and difficult. The museum is just one of those, there are many, many others.

“I don’t celebrate having to make those choices but I can’t be honest with the people of Wales about having priorities if we aren’t prepared to make choices around those.

“It really does highlight the need to have a different settlement at a UK level.”

On Sunday, Ms Richardson told BBC Radio Wales’ Sunday Supplement programme that Museum Wales is facing a £4.5 million reduction in its budget.

She said National Museum Cardiff – one of seven sites managed by the organisation – could be forced to close if more funding could not be secured.

Museum Wales has had a £3 million reduction in its grant but has a year-on-year deficit of £1.5 million, meaning a total deficit of £4.5 million by the end of March.

“Unless we’re able to secure more funding for that building that will have to close,” Ms Richardson told the BBC.

“When you have water coming through and failing electrics, there is a question hanging over the future of that building anyway.”

She said the building required “urgent critical work” to remain open to the public.

Ms Richardson added that there could be cuts of “at least 90 jobs” at the organisation to reduce costs.

When pressed on the issue on Monday, Mr Gething said the Welsh Government’s capital budget had suffered real terms reductions in recent years, in addition to losing more than £1 billion of revenue.

“You can’t take £1 billion out of our budget without there being a consequence,” Mr Gething added.

“We’re well past the point where being more innovative gets you over the line. We’re at a point where real choices have to be made about what we’re not able to do.

“I’d like to see a future where the national museum in Cardiff is able to do the work required on the building and deliver that excellent service.”

Tom Gifford, Welsh Conservatives shadow minister for culture, tourism and sport, called on Mr Gething to “step in” to protect the museum.

“It’s frankly very rich for a Labour First Minister to talk about priorities,” Mr Gifford said.

“Funding does have to be prioritised, and tough choices have to be made, which is why it’s all the more frustrating to see the Labour Welsh Government spend so much on their vanity projects, while one of our flagship museums falls into ruin.

“The First Minister must reconsider this decision and step in to protect our Welsh heritage.”