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Monday, 3 April, 2000, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Museum visits for 1

The Natural History Museum currently charges adults 7.50
Entry fees for many of England's national museums could be cut to 1 from next year in a move which is likely to cost the government 7.1m.

Museums which currently charge up to 7.50-a-head will be allowed to slash prices to 1 from next September, while those currently free will remain so.

The plans, announced by Culture Secretary Chris Smith are the latest stage in a government plan to increase visitor numbers and boost access.

But they are also being seen as a compromise on Labour's commitment to make museum and gallery entrance free for all.

Chris Smith
Chris Smith: "Museums cheaper than a video"
Institutions will not have to drop the prices but Mr Smith is writing to trustees which currently charge asking them to do so.

"I want to see the best of our culture and heritage made available to the greatest possible number, regardless of their income," he said.

The package - which will also grant free admission to people on benefits and the disabled - will cost the Department of Culture around 7.1m to implement in lost admission fees.

A typical family will be able to enjoy the wonders on display at the Natural History Museum for less than the price of hiring a video

Chris Smith
But some museums - like the Natural History Museum - maintain that they have been able to run successful and attractive museums because of their charging policies.

There are also fears that if entrance is free, museums would lose their status as businesses and would no longer be able to reclaim VAT on building projects.

The National Art Collections Fund, the art charity which has been pushing for free entry expressed concern.

Tate Modern
Entry to Tate Modern will be free
Chairman Sir Nicholas Goodison said: "We welcome the prospect of reduced admission charges as one more step on the road towards universal free entry - and we hope the new government subsidy is permanent.

"But the non-charging museums urgently need to know whether the VAT problem they face is going to be solved.

In February a major funding boost for the new Tate Modern Gallery drew accusations that the government would no longer be able to afford to fund universal free access.

The art gallery on London's south bank is to receive an injection of 5m in the coming financial year, with year-on-year increases of 6m thereafter, to ensure free admission.

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See also:

25 Jul 98 | Entertainment
Arts world embrace Smith's shake-up
16 Sep 98 | Entertainment
Millennial visions for UK museums
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New museums 'may fail'
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