From Sir Philip Bailhache.
THE melancholy crisis enveloping the Jersey Heritage Trust has been predictable and inevitable. For months, if not years, the writing has been on the wall.
Despite the understandable caution of ministers, I cannot really believe that our government is so careless of so much that is important for Jersey as to allow the
Tapestry Gallery, the Maritime Museum and the magnificent celebration of our agricultural history at Hamptonne to close.
What an appalling failure that would be. What a waste of money and dedicated effort and investment in trained and talented staff that would represent. What a disincentive to those contemplating gifts or bequests to the JHT.
The JHT is not incompetent. On the contrary, it seems to me that it has achieved miracles on a shoestring. It has won plaudits and national awards, and made an immeasurable contribution to the well being of the community. We are surely not going to show our gratitude for the splendid achievements of the director and his staff by severing an arm and a leg from this hard-working body of people?
Anyone who troubles to look at the facts, and compares us with other small jurisdictions (let alone larger nations), will recognise the plain truth that the JHT has been under-funded for years. And that is the real problem.
How can we correct chronic under-funding when the public finances are under stress and the Treasury Minister understandably does not want to add to the prospective deficit in the annual revenues of the States?
How is it possible to save the museums while there are equally pressing demands from other services? It requires, I submit, bold, innovative and strategic thinking.
For many years we have followed the British model of funding the museum service from the annual income of the States. There is another model. In the USA, universities, art galleries and museums derive substantial parts of their revenue from endowment funds, admittedly usually created over a period of years. In Jersey, there must be no better time to start.
My solution to the JHT crisis is simple and achievable. Let us establish, with guidance from the Comptroller and Auditor General, a Museums Endowment Fund under the control of independent trustees whose mandate would be (1) to preserve the capital value of the fund in real terms and (2) to provide as much revenue as possible for the JHT.
This could be a ‘special fund’ in terms of the Public Finances Law and would need ultimately to be at least £20 million so as to produce an average of £1 million a year for the trust.
I suggest that £10 million be allocated immediately from the Strategic Reserve, and a commitment given to provide up to another £5 million on a pound for pound basis against money raised by supporters of the JHT. This is a tried and tested method of public/private partnership. It was used to restore La Rocco Tower, and to establish the Arts Centre.
With the support of benefactors, the Museums Endowment Fund would grow over the years and could provide eventually for the entire cost of funding the museums and heritage resources of the Island.
What better strategic use could there be for a relatively small part of the annual income from the Strategic Reserve (nearly £28 million in 2008)?
This should be regarded as an investment. The money would not be spent. It would be invested so as to give the JHT financial stability for the first time.
The priceless assets of these endangered museums would be secured for future generations. And all at minimal cost to the annual income of the States.