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Wednesday, 4 April, 2001, 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK
Museums exhibit caution over charges
Victoria & Albert Museum
V&A: Delighted at free entry prospect
By BBC News Online's Darren Waters

The campaign to drop entry charges at museums and galleries is continuing despite a recent pledge in the budget that would enable institutions to open their doors for free.

Chancellor Gordon Brown announced he had reached a deal with Culture Secretary Chris Smith over a compensation package for museums who would lose valuable VAT rebates, if they dropped their charges.

The Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum: Waiting for the fine detail
Some of England's most prestigious institutions have welcomed the deal while others remain decidedly cautious.

Paul Ridley, chairman of the board of trustees at the Victoria & Albert Museum, told BBC News Online: "The trustees are delighted that the barriers to free entry for museums are to be removed.

"We will be working with the DCMS to introduce free entry as soon as possible."

The Science Museum is another institution which will be looking to drop charges as soon as possible.

The reason is simple.

General trend

"The general trend is that where charges have been introduced there has been a drop of numbers by a third," explained David Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund, which lead the campaign for free entry.

"We were absolutely delighted at the success," he said.

The Art Fund, as it is known, spent 18 months lobbying the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to get behind the idea.

The deal would make a great deal of difference to the cultural life of Britain, he added.

"We have consistently held the view that it would be a kind of betrayal to make it harder to gain access than it needs to be to the great collections built up with public and private money, over centuries in some cases," Mr Barrie said.

Entrance fees drive down the numbers of visitors and discourage repeat visits, he said.

Philosophical outlook

But not all of the institutions are desperately keen to drop charges, at least not until they know exactly how much compensation they will receive from the government.

Mr Barrie said: "Some of the other charging institutions have different philosophical outlook from ourselves.

The Science Museum
The Science Museum welcomes the chance to drop charges
"They may take the view that charging the public means they must sharpen up their act."

A spokeswoman for the Imperial War Museum said it did not yet have a stance on free entry.

She said the museum was under the impression that there was no obligation to drop the charges, despite the government's deal.

Official stance

She said: "The museum does not have an official stance. It will be dealt with by the trustees."

A spokeswoman for the Natural History Museum told BBC News Online: "It is all absolutely still at the discussion level. We still want to find out how much compensation we will get.

"We are not saying we won't drop admission charges. It depends on the final detail.

"We are very keen to know how they are going to be solving this problem of VAT."

But Mr Barrie said he would be very surprised if any of the museums retained charges.

He said: "Technically these places are run by their trustees and they make take the view its is improper for government to get involved.

"But it would be very disappointing if charges stayed in place. I would be surprised if the DCMS allowed this to happen.

"They hold the whip hand in terms of controlling funding to these institutions."

See also:

03 Apr 01 | Arts
Tate leads museum boom
18 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Museum rescue 'to cost taxpayer 25m'
24 Jan 01 | Entertainment
'Free entry' to museums
07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Museums and galleries will be free
03 Apr 00 | UK
Museum visits for 1
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