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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 10:48 GMT
British Museum faces cash crisis
The British Museum
Lord Foster designed the British Museum's Great Court
A looming financial deficit threatens the British Museum's opening hours and jobs may also have to go at the London museum.

The museum, the UK's most popular visitor attraction, blames a fall in tourist numbers since the 11 September attacks on the US - but also says that it has a "structural deficit" due to years of Government underfunding.

We've suffered a 1m drop in revenue thanks to the tourist crisis after 11 September

British Museum spokesman
The deficit now totals 5m, according to Christopher Jones, the museum's accounting officer.

The museum, a year away from celebrating its 250th anniversary, employs 1,000 staff and receives 36m from the Government in yearly grants.

It does not charge admission - but makes 9m from sales and sponsorships, which have been hit by the decline in visitor numbers.


A British Museum spokesman told BBC News Online: "We've suffered a 1m drop in revenue thanks to the tourist crisis after 11 September - a crucial slice of our income has dropped 20%."

British Museum
The museum hopes to agree a savings package in April
More than half of the museum's 4.6 million visitors last year came from overseas, including 17% from the US.

The spokesman also said that longer-term factors had led to the shortfall, including low interest rates on British museum investments and "sustained underfunding" over the last 10 years.

"Over the years we've heroically decided to stay free and we've received no compensation for this from government - but the museums who decided to go free recently benefited from 28m compensation.

"Also, we've postponed essential buildings works and maintenance, which is now costed at 1m," he said.

Neil MacGregor
Neil MacGregor recently took over as director
One of the consequences of the cash crisis is the rotating closure of some of the museum's galleries.

The much-vaunted Great Court, designed by Lord Foster, is also set to close at 6pm from Sundays to Wednesdays.

The Millennium Commission, which funded the development with 50m, originally made late opening of the Court a condition of the grant.

But just before Christmas the Commission gave permission for the hours change.

A package of savings, assembled by accounting officer Christopher Jones, is to go before the museum's trustees before the end of April.

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