Tullie House Museum – future sustainability

Carlisle City Council recruited a productivity expert with experience in the museum, heritage and cultural sector, to advise on the financial resilience of the Tullie House Museum; reduce its dependence on direct grant funding from Carlisle City Council; and identify a sustainable future funding level which reflected the operating demands of the museum and the council’s ongoing budget pressures. (This case study forms part of our productivity experts resource.)

Efficiency and income generation

The advisor provided a range of suggestions on how commercial income could be increased, these were developed into an implementation plan, and have ultimately led to agreement on the council reducing core funding to the museum by £200,000 from 2020.

The challenge

In May 2011 Carlisle City Council established a new charitable trust (the Tullie House Trust) and transferred out the operation and management of their Tullie House Museum to this trust. An annual grant is paid by Carlisle City Council as core funding to the trust. This is agreed via the approval of a three year business plan submitted by the trust to Carlisle City Council on an annual basis.

At inception the annual grant to the trust was circa £1.3m. From 2016/17 this grant reduced to £805,682. This current figure reflects inflation adjusted funding reductions of £214,000 deliverable from 2016/17; and £250,000 deliverable from 2015/16.

The delivery of such substantial savings in consecutive financial years has, understandably, been extremely challenging for the Tullie House Trust and any further reductions would have been likely to significantly test the trust’s ability to retain current service levels (if grant funding was not replaced via other income streams).

However, Carlisle City Council’s own financial challenges remained acute and further funding reductions became unavoidable. While not welcomed, this position was recognised by the trust’s management team.

Jonathan Bryant of Roseangle consulting was recruited through the LGA Productivity Expert scheme to review commercial income options for the trust and joint working / capital investment options from the council that could help the trust replace grant funding with commercial income.

The solution

Jonathan Bryant identified a range of options, including annual membership schemes, reprofiling of existing charges, changes to exhibition approaches, and capital investment and transfer of assets (from the council side) to the Trust which would help the trust reconfigure the layout of the museum. This improved the customer journey, increased the floor space available for secondary spend (in the form of café and shop areas) and allowed the Trust to explore whole new income streams (such as commercial lettings).

These suggestions were worked up into a development plan jointly agreed by the trust board and the council and being implemented over the coming years.

The impact 

The process has led to the council and the trust being able to agree a further £200,000 reductions to the core funding provided by the council from 2020. This reduction is reflected in the trust’s business plan and the saving is now written into the council’s medium term financial plan.    

How is the new approach being sustained?

The council and the trust still continue to work jointly on the implementation of proposals and meet on a regular basis to drive this agenda. Beyond this, as previously stated, the savings are now written into the trust’s three year business plan and the council’s medium term financial plan from 2020.

Lessons learned

An external perspective, particularly an experienced one, is invaluable in reviewing current approaches to income generation and service delivery. Unfettered by assumptions and historic approaches, Jonathan was able to see a range of new opportunities. However, if working in partnership on such a scheme (as we were here) it is important that both parties are involved in the selection of the expert, the development of the brief, and are equally engaged throughout the process. Equally it is important that there is joint ownership of the conclusions and recommendations so that they can be carried out and delivered.


LGA contact:

Grace Abel, Productivity Advisor, grace.abel@local.gov.uk, 07825 726273