Service Level Agreements
What is an SLA?
Service Level Agreements have been in existence for some years. They have
arisen from the increasing tendency to introduce a range of different service
providers working under the umbrella/on behalf of a single organisation, such
as a local authority.
The intention is to define what the level (nature/quality/cost) of service is
provided and what (payment/recognition) the provider receives. An SLA is,
effectively, a Contract.
What place do SLAs have in Museum Provision?
Increasingly museums are working more closely together – and are being
encouraged to do so. This is reflected in the sharing of services (conservation
and curatorial skills, for example) and facilities (notably storage). In addition
many of Scotland’s independent museums have a relationship of sorts with
their appropriate local authority.
Both of these relationships have often been either informal or only formal to a
degree. The application of an SLA would formalise such relationships
generally for the benefit of both parties. There will, of course, always be
exceptions, when informality is a more effective way of operating.
Where SLAs would be useful
The relationship between local authorities and “their” independent museums
is often one way. The Local Authority provides curatorial support and other
help in kind such as premises or equipment and sometimes, but not always,
funding. Funding can be in the form either of an annual grant or project
support. The Local Authority will probably have conditions regarding the
governance of independent museums that it helps and may require
representation at certain meetings of the governing body.
A well developed SLA would define the standards of service expected from
independent museums in return for a specified level of support. It would also
give the independent museum the opportunity to develop the service it
provides and, in certain cases, offer specialised support to the local authority
service as a whole, or provide a museum service for a defined geographical
Ideally an SLA would cover a number of years – typically three – subject to
annual, or more frequent, review. This provides security to the Independent
Museum and ensures continuity of service.
There are examples of SLAs available on the internet, but often they have been
developed at a time of crisis. In the case of Ely Museum, for example, the local
authority “bailed out” an independent museum to the tune of £30,000 per
annum, so was in a strong position to define what was expected.
Ely is an interesting case. The Council has provided core revenue funding for
Ely Museum since 2000/1 when the Museum was considered to be at risk of
closure. The Grant for 2008/9 is approximately £34,000. The Museum
building is owned and maintained by East Cambridgeshire Council and let to
the Museum on a peppercorn rent.
The Museum has an annual business plan which “sets out agreed objectives,
milestones and performance indicators for the Museum which are reviewed
by the two organisations on a quarterly basis.” Ely Museum, as part of this
agreement, provides curatorial support to three other local museums and, in
turn, receives support from the Council’s Museums Development Officer. It is
common for museums with an SLA to be required to acquire and retain
registration/accreditation. The SLA between Rhondda Cynon Taff Borough
Council and Pontypridd Historical and Cultural Centre makes it clear that
“continued provision of grant-aid will be dependant on the Centre maintaining
its registered status.”
A Service Level Agreement is essential to establish a clear, professional
relationship between – in these cases – a local authority and local
independent/community museums. SLAs will not only “tell” the local museum
what to do, but can also provide an opportunity for the smaller museum to
expand its role in its geographical or subject area, as is the case in Ely.
In a time when local authorities are looking for alternative means of service
provision, there are opportunities for independent museums to develop their
role in partnership with the local authority and for local authorities to
maintain and improve the services in their areas in a cost effective and
community based way.
Typical Content of an SLA
a. Commitments by the Funding Body
Annual Funding Support – revenue/capital
Curatorial and other Support
b. Commitments by the Museum
Accreditation – achieving and maintaining
Governance (ensuring an appropriate structure)
Performance Measures (achievable ones that can be influenced by the
Museum Management body)
Contribution to Funding Body Objectives
Delivery of services to defined groups (educations, special needs,
Development and Implementation of appropriate policies
c. Joint Agreements
Period of SLA
Preparation and Monitoring of Development Plan
Responsibilities for premises and collections
Geographical area covered by Museum
Examples of SLAs
(These are all available via the internet using Google etc.)
Ely Museum and East Cambridgeshire District Council
Bexhill Museum and Rother District Council
Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council and Pontypridd Town Council
Hampshire County Council, Havant Borough Council and Havant Arts Centre
East Lothian Council Museums Service currently has one Service Level
Agreement in place (actually called a Management Agreement in this case),
with John Muir’s Birthplace Trust in Dunbar.
The Birthplace was run as a seasonal museum with fairly limited hours until
its redevelopment in 2002/3. The Management Agreement came about as part
of the redevelopment project, as both parties (and external bodies such as
funders) had invested heavily (in terms of time and money) in the
redevelopment and needed formal definition of the terms of the working
relationship going forwards. The Management Agreement provides clarity in
terms of the operation of the Museum, but also security that long term
strategic aims and objectives will be met.
The property is owned by the JMBT and operated and staffed by East Lothian
Council. The Management Agreement details exactly which costs each party is
liable for and how the relationship between the two parties will work. It also
details how any breakdown of the relationship would be managed and how
often review of the MA is necessary.
It is a time of change and development in East Lothian Council with the
Museums Service going through a period of unprecedented growth. Two of
these projects - Musselburgh Museum and Dunbar Town House Museum –
will involve local groups in the delivery of the service. Until now these
relationships have been informal, but in both cases it is necessary to formalise
the relationships for numerous reasons. There isn’t space for details on these
projects, but we would be happy to provide them if needed/requested.