Museum threat is threat to our future

WONDER: MOSI has an incredible capacity to inspire youngsters and expand their horizons. Can we really afford to close it?

WHEN I HEARD the news that funding changes could see Greater Manchester lose the Museum of Science and Industry I had to double-take in astonishment.

As a key part of our region’s social and educational fabric, MOSI – as it is now known – has been much more than a traditional museum.

In fact, there is very little that is traditional about it at all.

Growing up, I had found a lot of my own schooling and education experiences boring, to be honest, with one or two exceptions.

I loved art and design: perhaps, I’m a frustrated architect or town planner now, who knows? But I was also fascinated with engineering and science, in particular the solar system.

MOSI was one of two places where I felt truly engaged and inspired; the other being Jodrell Bank.

Last week we were told that the Science Museums Group which runs MOSI – together with the Bradford’s National Media Museum and York’s National Railway Museum – is citing Government cuts to its budget as the catalyst for a review that could see closures.

Government funding currently makes up around 65 per cent of the group’s funding so any cut will clearly be painful.

Here in Local Government we have become so used to funding cuts now that it is simply an accepted part of our day job (albeit the worst aspect, I should add).

So far, however, many other areas of Government funding have been left comparatively unscathed by cuts.

So you might therefore think that a Council Leader like me would say that every area of Government funding should share the pain. But I don’t.

I disagree that cutting the public sector, plus the arts and culture is the right response because it fails to understand the economic impact that this will have.

Increasingly the major UK towns and cities which thrive do so because they have a good mix of retail, entertainment, culture and the arts, together with good transport links and good quality public spaces.

Britain is struggling to find its way in the global economic race in 2013.

We have lost ground to many emerging markets and we’ve lost huge parts of our manufacturing and industry sectors.

For some people, investment in a museum like MOSI may thus appear to be a misguided ‘nod to the past’ and fail to see its real value: its ability to inspire.

If we want to be a player in that global race we simply can’t afford not to invest in understanding where we have come from and, even more importantly,  helping to inspire that next world-changing inventor, engineer, scientist or pioneering thinker to have their ‘Eureka’ moment.

The closure of MOSI wouldn’t just be a setback for Manchester, it would be a blow for the whole country.

In the past, Greater Manchester has led the world in many fields of science, engineering and industry, but we also haven’t given up on producing the next world-changing innovation – and nor should the Government.

By sheer chance my 11-year-old son spent yesterday on a school trip to MOSI.

Afterwards I listened to him excitedly explain what he had seen and learned.

I remembered feeling just the same way at his age about the potential of discovery and having an awareness that our world – our universe, even – was so much bigger and boundless than we could even conceptually grasp.

It would be absolutely criminal if he isn’t also able to have the same discussion in the future with his own son, my grandson, because of a short-sighted decision now to save a few pounds.

As I write more than 40,000 people have already signed an online petition urging the Science Museums Group to think again and save MOSI.

If you get the chance, please take a few moments to visit the online petition here and add your name to those fighting to keep this inspiring and vital facility open for generations to come.

Thanks for listening,

Jim

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