COUNCILLORS HAVE REJECTED a bid of £44,500 in grant funding by the Elgin Museum – while approving up to £60,000 to be spent on a review of parking in the town.
The Moray Society, who run the Museum, sought the funding over the next three years and put in a revised business case after being asked to do so at an earlier meeting of the Council’s economic development and infrastructure services committee.
While the revised business plan sought to market the museum to a wider audience and included plans to expand activities to including hosting weddings and corporate events, several councillors remained unconvinced that the museum could meet its forecast of increasing visitor numbers by 10% each year.
Leading the sceptics was Council Leader Stewart Cree, who insisted that while not wishing to be a “prophet of doom” the figures put forward by the Moray Society appeared to reflect an organisation who were facing rising costs and decreasing income.
A plea by the leader of the SNP opposition, Councillor Gary Coull, that the committee consider the general benefits to Moray of having a key attraction grow, in particular given the Council’s desire to promote Tourism, was rejected when the funding bid was defeated by seven votes to six.
At the same meeting several Councillors were also sceptical about proposals to spend £60,000 on a full parking review in Elgin.
However, the SNP’s Graham Leadbitter insisted that the review was needed to solve issues that had been hurting Moray’s largest town for too long, pointing to the already agreed Elgin Charrette action plan in which parking was a major issue.
Councillor Leadbitter rejected claims by the Council Convener, Allan Wright, that with imminent pressures on the budget it was not the time to spend £60,000 on yet another review of parking in Elgin.
The committee agreed to press ahead with the review by seven votes to six.
There was condemnation last night over the decision not to fund the Elgin Museum, led by SNP Group Leader Gary Coull who said: “Independent and Tory Councillors voted against this today saying it was a low priority and that the money could be used elsewhere, yet these are the same councillors who shouted about the Moray Economic Strategy, which includes Tourism and Culture as a key part of that. Not only that, the money that was refused had already been allowed for in the current budget year!
“Elgin Museum is widely recognised as being of a very high standard and is recognised as a four star attraction by the Scottish Tourist Board. It is also Scotland’s oldest independent museum. Given these significant accolades it is very short-sighted not to support them, not least because of the wider economic benefit that having a top quality museum brings to Elgin and Moray.
“It is very disappointing that the Council’s Independent/Tory Administration voted against this support and I sincerely hope that the museum can identify an alternative funder.”
Richard Lochhead MSP added: “We all recognise that times are tough for public services with austerity budgets from Westminster but we cannot allow our cultural heritage to wither away, not least when the money that was refused was already budgeted for by the Council.
“This will be a blow for the Moray Society’s plans and I think the Council’s Administration should have taken a more positive view of their grant application.
“The amounts being asked for spread over three years were not enormous but could have made a significant difference to the Museum’s potential to grow it’s visitor numbers and income.”
James MacKessack-Leitch, the Moray Greens Convenor, said: “This is not just a loss for all those who put so much hard work into drafting the bid, but also for the wider area and community.
“Councillors had the opportunity to make a modest investment to enhance our shared heritage and boost local tourism, but instead focussed on the potential negatives despite an overwhelmingly positive report. Unfortunately it seems Elgin Museum has become the latest victim of what’s quickly become the Administrations trademark blinkered and penny-pinching attitude – and once again by a single vote.”
“The thought that somehow our shared history is only worthy of support if it can turn a profit is bad enough, but for Councillors to not even offer a chance at becoming self-sustaining is completely short-sighted and serves no one’s interests – instead we should be supporting and celebrating our heritage and encouraging visitors to come to Moray and do the same.”