George Osborne, the former chancellor who presided over swingeing austerity cuts to England’s arts and museums budgets, is to be the new chair of the British Museum.
The museum announced on Thursday that Osborne would join its board of trustees in September and succeed the former Financial Times editor Sir Richard Lambert as chair in October.
Osborne was chancellor until 2016 and the architect of austerity policies that had a profound effect on England’s cultural life. His 2010 spending review delivered a 30% cut to England’s arts budget and a 15% cut to national museums.
Since leaving government Osborne has had multiple jobs including editor of the Evening Standard and a £650,000-a-year role as adviser to BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager.
In February he announced he was dropping his portfolio career to become a full-time banker as a partner at the investment bank Robey Warshaw. He remains chair of the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
Osborne said he was “absolutely thrilled” to be joining the museum. “All my life I have loved the British Museum. To my mind, it is quite simply the greatest museum in the world. It’s a place that brings cultures together and tells the story of our common humanity.
“I hope to bring my experience, energy and passion to this incredibly exciting role.”
Osborne was chosen by the board of trustees and not the government. It was a unanimous decision, the museum said.
Minouche Shafik, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England who became a crossbench peer in the political peerages list of 2020, is deputy chair of the trustees.
She said: “George Osborne has a longstanding commitment to culture, both personally and in his various public roles. The trustees look forward to working with him to bring the museum to ever-larger audiences and to expand its contribution to public understanding of our collective history.
“He brings enthusiasm for the museum combined with extensive national and international networks and experience with finance and fundraising on a global scale.”
The appointment comes as the museum works on its masterplan to make the displays more coherent and interconnected, described by its director, Hartwig Fischer, as “the biggest transformative project in our history”.
Fischer said he was “very happy” to welcome Osborne, adding he “knows the museum well and values the trust the museum enjoys around the world.
“He understands the active role the British Museum is playing in the recovery of the country, creating opportunities for everyone to discover the collection as their own – onsite, through loans to their local museums and online.”
Osborne’s arrival also comes as the museum faces growing demands to follow the example of European museums and give back objects, such as the Benin bronzes, which were looted by the British.