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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
British Museum 'needs 10m boost'
Robert Anderson
Robert Anderson: "We can't cut back any more"

The government must give the beleaguered British Museum an extra 10m a year if it is to beat its financial problems, its director has said.

The museum is already shedding 150 jobs over the next two years to combat a 5m deficit by 2005, but Dr Robert Anderson told BBC News Online this was not enough.

"We still receive 30% less than we did in 1992 due to government cuts," said Dr Anderson, who is leaving his 10-year post on Sunday.

"We've had to cut back and slim down over the last decade but now the point has been reached where we simply can't do that any more."

Museum workers on strike
Museum workers went on strike earlier this month
The museum, which saw its staff strike earlier this month over the cuts, receives 35m a year from the government.

But Dr Anderson insisted the extra 10m was vital as lack of cash meant it had to use funds which were "eating into the core activity of the museum".

But although he admitted he understood why many of his staff went on strike, he had opposed the move.

"Going on strike affects the public who we're here to serve and creates an inappropriate impression of the museum," he said.

He added that the museum - which has never charged its visitors to enter - also lost out when the government introduced its free entry policy.

Great Court
Funding the space created by the Great Court is proving difficult
"Over the past few years museum after museum started charging - we didn't - and obviously those museums which charged increased their income - in some cases significantly," he said.

When free entry was introduced in 2001 those museums which had charged their visitors were compensated for loss of income by the government.

But the British Museum was excluded, and only benefited "slightly" from a change in VAT regulation.

Famed for displaying treasures from around the globe, the British Museum's exhibits include the largest collection of ancient Egyptian material outside Cairo and of course the controversial Elgin Marbles, which Dr Anderson is keen to keep in the UK.

He remains passionate about its work, describing it as part of "London's remarkable group of cultural institutions - they are, if you like, jewels in the crown".

Although the capital's museums attracted 11 million visitors from overseas last year, Dr Anderson was keen to stress: "I don't think we should be funding our museums simply because of the tourist industry.

Cleopatra sculpture
The museum had a Cleopatra exhibition last year
"Museums are something which add to the cultural life and wellbeing of the nation."

He added that the UK is "lucky with our national institutions as we started our collections early when Britain was a force around the world through our Empire".

The museum will celebrate its 250th anniversary next year, which will be overseen by its incoming director Neil McGregor, the head of the National Gallery.

Dr Anderson said Mr McGregor would find "a lively staff", and that they were "leaders of their fields around the world".

"Of course he'll have to deal with the financial problems the museum faces - unless they can be solved, everything else starts coming to a grinding halt," he said.

Neil McGregor
Neil McGregor will have to tackle the museum's funding problem
He added that the job was definitely not a poison chalice, and that "we should be happy people are willing to take on these difficult tasks".

Looking back on his last 10 years in office - and his 32 years working in various museums - Dr Anderson said the item he most liked having on show was the Sloane Astrolade, a "highly satisfying object" currently housed in the British Museum.

It was a complex calculating device from the 13th Century developed originally by the Greeks and used for telling the time using the stars.

"It also indicates the very high level of learning and understanding that was available the medieval world, which is perhaps not widely appreciated," he said.

Dr Anderson will continue his love of learning by joining academic life in Princeton, US, researching a book on the impact museums had on working people in the 19th Century.

He said it was then "likely" he would continue his studies a year later at Cambridge University as he was keen to do something "different" - and no doubt less stressful than running a museum.

BBC News Online looks at how the arts are funded in the UKArts funding
How the UK's cash for the arts is spent
See also:

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