Danny Alexander says Liberal Democrats will continue free museum access

Danny Alexander at 10 Downing StreetAccess to museums and galleries such as the British Museum, the Tate Modern, the Science Museum and the V & A will remain free under new Liberal Democrat proposals according to The Guardian which quotes Danny Alexander as saying:

Our museums and galleries are some of the best in the world. They are a source of inspiration and education for millions across the country. As Liberal Democrats in government we’ve played our full part in making sure they have the funding and operating freedoms to widen access to all parts of society. The fact that attendance is at record levels and that last year was the first time that a majority of people had visited a museum or gallery shows that free access is a policy that works.

“We’re now committing to maintaining that free access in the next parliament so that people from all backgrounds and income groups can make use of these great institutions without concerns about the cost. I see this as another way of helping make sure that as many people as possible have the best chance of getting on in life.

It’s good news for parents who have spent many a happy and educational day learning about everything from DNA to global warming at the science museum with their family or tried to instil in their offspring a love of the great painters.

While some might argue that this isn’t a priority given the pressures on public finances, there is a fairness issue here. Why should access to these important sources of learning or great works of art depend on your ability to pay? What do you think?

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12 Comments

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Aug '14 - 9:29am

    As someone who has just returned from the Science museum with my grandchild all I can say is Amen to that.

    The interactive areas of these places introduces children to learning through fun. To those who say that it is predominantly only middle class parents who could well afford to play who take their children, to these places, not so. Leaving aside the snobbish assumptions within that idea, there are school trips and trips from Sure Start centres.

    Museums and Art Galleries should remain accessible to all children who are entitled to the wonderment and fun learning that they afford.

  • Jayne Mansfield 19th Aug '14 - 9:30am

    I meant parents who could afford to pay – Freudian slip!

  • That story says the Lib Dems will commit to funding for 15 museums. Even if this is a misquote and the reality is 15 museum groups, that still means hundreds of other museums will lose funding and will have to charge.

    This needs urgently clarified.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Aug '14 - 9:50am

    I’ve long disagreed with free museum access. It’s not an essential public service.

  • daft ha'p'orth 19th Aug '14 - 10:39am

    I’d be more impressed if the piece had managed to come up with any examples that don’t have ‘flagship stores’ in Central London. Yes, there is life outside the M25. And there are even some museums out there now, despite closures in recent years.

    From the second link: The Museums Association (MA) surveyed cuts to museums in 2011, 2012 and 2013. We found that 23% of respondents experienced a budget cut of more than 10% in the past year alone. 7% of respondents have reduced access to sites by closing whole or parts of sites, permanently or temporarily, on top of 22% of respondents in 2012. More than a third of museums who responded to our 2011 and 2012 surveys had experienced a cut of over 35% over the two years, leading to reduced staff and reduced public services. [In 2013] 47% of museums saw an increase in the number of volunteers and interns while 37% saw staff cuts.

    In general, museums in Zone 1 of the London Underground are in a pretty uniquely fortunate situation already. Massive footfall, captive audience, merchandise and of course provision of event spaces for corporate clients. It’s amazing what you can do with a prestigious name and significant amounts of real estate within easy reach of Parliament.

    None of this means that museums in Central London should not be supported or funded or that they should not be free. But it does mean that this announcement as presented by the Guardian (note caveat) does not on the face of it represent a particularly serious commitment to the museum sector across the UK. London bubble myopia, more like. The question is whether that shortsightedness belongs to the Grauniad, or Mr Alexander.

  • The Science Museum has sights in York and Bradford that are ‘free’. The IWM has Duxford is that a free sight or does it charge I’m afraid I haven’t been there for many years. The Tate has sights in Liverpool and Cornwall and presumably the 15 includes the National Museum of Scotland amongst other national collections.

    There is a full list here and as @g has said 15 could mean cuts all though to tens rather than hundreds. A full list of national museums is here http://www.nationalmuseums.org.uk/what-we-do/encouraging_investment/free-admission/ the * indicates those that had free admissions before 2001.

    @Eddie Samons the introduction of free admission in 2001 seems to have had a very positive effect on making museums more diverse and boasting visitor numbers. Even at those like the British Museum which didn’t charge.

  • daft ha'p'orth 19th Aug '14 - 11:33am

    Simon: hence ‘flagship stores’.
    Incidentally, IWM Duxford charges £17.50.

  • this is awful news, museums are NOT meant to be playpens or creches and yet that is exactly what they become in the school holidays. it also means that as a nation we subsidise free access for tourists and other visitors too.
    Can tbe party get nothing right these days ?

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Aug '14 - 8:17am

    @ Johnmc,
    As a regular attender at museums and art galleries with my grandchildren, I can categorically state that they do not become playpens and creches during school holidays. They become places where children and adult carers engage in learning activities.

    I think that the link provided by daft ha’ porth addresses the question of whether they are subsidised by the nation or whether they attract tourists who bring money into the country. The cafeterias and shops inside the buildings must be making quite a of of money too from what I have observed.

  • daft ha'p'orth 20th Aug '14 - 10:23am

    @Jayne Mansfield
    The museums in question are supported by the nation. I would be as happy if the term ‘subsidised’ died a horrible death tomorrow, given the way it’s been abused for the last few years… Anyway, you can find various funding letters and financial reports online, although personally I find they tend not to be terrifically readable so don’t blame me if the numbers below are inaccurate. The fact is that these particular museums still do receive large amounts of government funding, although this govt has cut repeatedly in a bid to, as they say, encourage organisations to develop philanthropy in the sector. Running a museum is pretty expensive: old buildings may be pretty but the maintenance costs are significant; acquiring pieces is sometimes mindbogglingly expensive, security likewise; wages for specialist staff can only be driven down so far despite this government’s spirited attempt at turning expertise into a volunteer commodity; exhibits need TLC and curation. Also, storage of material in Central London is laughably expensive, which is why the British Library stores much of its stuff in Boston Spa, outside York, but then the BL knows that to fulfil its role as curator, it only needs to store that stuff, not facilitate easy access.

    For info, some Grant in Aid numbers:
    V&A for 2013- £39.4m
    Science museum group for 2012-13 – ‘£39.3m, “a real terms reduction of 25% in our total Grant-in-Aid over five years”‘
    British museum for 2014 – 43.862
    The British Museum says that 2011-12 was the first year that ‘government funding was matched pound for pound by other revenue streams, including corporate sponsorship, memberships and donations from wealthy individuals.’ The V&A says around 60% of funding is received as Grant in Aid from the dept of culture, media and sport.

    Grant in Aid numbers in this govt tend to reduce year-on-year. There is a reason for that. To quote, ‘Following the 2010 Election the Coalition Government asked all major arts funding bodies to show how they would manage cuts of 25% or 30%. Leaders from institutions like the National Theatre and Tate have warned that cuts on this scale would inflict severe damage on the arts. Following the results of the Comprehensive Spending Review in October 2010, Arts Council England announced a new strategic framework for the next years as a consequence of a reduction of almost 30% in its overall budget. It is suggested that arts institutions should embrace the US model of fundraising from private sources to help offset a sharp reduction in public subsidy.’ Or, as they used to put it, sauve qui peut.

    The result of this death-by-a-thousand-cuts is the risk of closing less ‘profitable’ branches, which is to say, regional museums. In 2013, the Science Museum group threatened to close Manchester’s MOSIand implement a charge for school groups visiting their museums.

    Again, I would argue that London museums are not the museums that most need attention right now because, whilst they have been and are undergoing serious cuts, they have the benefit of footfall. Museums within Zone 1 Disneyland London mostly haven’t been as badly impacted as their cousins out in the sticks because they do have a huge, readily available audience in holiday mood and primed to spend money, and a second huge audience that is just dying to demonstrate their cultural credentials by arranging corporate functions in front of a piece of sculpture nicked from somewhere or other back in colonial times.

    I find it darkly funny that despite championing the Classics, this government (unlike, it must be said, Labour) have demonstrated total disinterest in any cultural institutions they don’t personally happen to have been invited to for drinkies.

  • daft ha'p'orth 20th Aug '14 - 10:29am

    By the way, @Johnmc, you mention ‘we subsidise free access for tourists’ etc. It’s kind of the other way around: fleecing the tourists brings in substantial amounts of cash.

  • Jayne Mansfield 20th Aug '14 - 2:50pm

    @ Daft ha’ porth,
    Thank you for your informative post. It is greatly appreciated.

    You are correct, the reports are not terribly readable , especially to someone like myself with an eye problem that has stimulated a particular interest in the way artist with sight problems such as Matisse and Monet’s work can be analysed in the light of their increasing disability. I shall have to ‘chunk’ my reading.

    Is there any evidence that philanthropists have taken up the baton and started to make the financial donations necessary to compensate for the short fall caused by government cuts?

    I agree with you about the importance of funding for regional museums and galleries. I find the idea of museum trusts feeling that they can only cover operating costs if they raise money by charging groups of school children for entrance preposterous, and a sad indication of the narrow thinking of our current government, especially as it is apparent that attempts have already been made to raise money by other more acceptable means, for example, as venues for corporate functions, civil partnerships and weddings

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