MUSEUM bosses have warned the continued impact of the coronavirus pandemic risks jeopardising collections, endangering historic buildings and "devastating staff". 

Industrial Museums Scotland (IMS) fears collections could have to be placed in the care of national institutions or councils, where they will be unwanted and neglected.

It said its museums made a cumulative loss of "in excess of £300,000" last year and are forecasting this will double in 2021/22.

The Scottish Government said it is a "hugely challenging" time for museums and it is doing all it can to support them.

IMS represents attractions such as the National Mining Museum in Midlothian, the Scottish Maritime Museum and the New Lanark World Heritage Site.

Its members employ more than 200 people and contribute more than £9 million to Scotland’s economy.

In evidence submitted to Holyrood's Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Affairs Committee, it said it is "increasingly concerned about the sustainability of many independent museums given recent and projected visitor numbers and the ongoing impact on national and international tourism".

It said several members have carried out redundancy consultations as part of cost-cutting measures.

It continued: "This past year saw visitor figures plummet to 37 per cent of the previous year and our museums are planning for similar numbers in 2021/22, while recognising that this is not sustainable. 

"In 2020/21, income was down over 50% and, despite taking action to cut costs, our museums made a cumulative loss in excess of £300k; they are forecasting a loss of double this in 2021/22.

"Our museums are concerned about the feasibility of reopening in 2021/22.

"We foresee difficult times ahead for museums with cashflow projections being impossible to predict."

IMS said its major concern is that further essential funding for the museum sector will be "too little, too late". 

It told MSPs: "Our worry is that it will come after we have been forced to make staff redundant, mothball historic buildings and collections, and cease public engagement activities. 

"The impact of this on the sector will be irreversible, putting collections at risk, endangering historic buildings and, most significantly, devastating staff, destroying team dynamics and ending careers. 

"Collections will have to be put into the care of national institutions or local authorities, where they will be unwanted and unwelcome, and will either be neglected or will absorb resources in a context where these are already insufficient."

IMS submitted its evidence to the Holyrood committee in January, but told The Herald it stands as an up-to-date assessment of the situation facing its museums. 

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "This is a hugely challenging and concerning time for our world-renowned museums and we are doing all we can to support them during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We are in regular contact with Museums Galleries Scotland, our museums development body, and are also working closely with other cultural and heritage funders to ensure a co-ordinated response.

"We acted quickly to provide support to independent museums, and announced in July 2020 £4 million for the Museums Recovery and Resilience Fund, which is being administered by MGS. 

"In December 2020, in response to continuing need across the sector, we topped this up with an additional £3.1 million.”

Lucy Casot, chief executive of Museums Galleries Scotland, said considerable challenges remain and visitor numbers cannot be expected to return to normal for some time.

She said: "We are grateful for the considerable Scottish Government support for museums, which has supported the sector through the pandemic.

"However, there remain considerable challenges. 

"While we are hopeful that current restrictions will end soon, the experience from last year is that only a minority of museums are able to operate while maintaining social distancing and while travel within Scotland is limited.

"Even when museums are able to open, we cannot expect visitor numbers to return to normal for some time, particularly with continued restrictions to international travel.

"The financial impact of two lost tourist seasons should not be underestimated.

"If there is room for optimism, we would hope that domestic audiences will be desperate to visit and support their local museums when they are able to.

"The pandemic has after all underlined how crucial culture is for our wellbeing."