BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Entertainment  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Friday, 9 August, 2002, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
How the museums were freed
The Natural History Museum, London
The Natural History Museum is among those now free

The government's decision to scrap entry fees for many of England's museums and galleries appears to have paid off, with visitor numbers shooting up.

Thirteen of the most popular museums and galleries in the UK began to offer free entry in December 2001, declaring that they should not just be "special treats" but open to as many people as possible.

It was the fulfilment of a 1997 election pledge, and has cost the government more than 70m - the cash was given to the institutions over three years to make up for loss of revenue.

Total attendance [Dec 2001 - June 2002]
Natural History Museum: 1,632,175
Science Museum: 1,356,398
V&A: 1,257,824
National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside: 644,580
National Maritime Museum: 615,856
National Railway Museum: 339,968
Imperial War Museum: 339,873
Museum of Science and Industry: 298,573
Museum of London: 234,246
Royal Armouries: 165,164
Theatre Museum: 113,715

And with Friday's announcement that the move had boosted visitor numbers by 62%, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell promised that free entry would become a permanent feature of UK cultural life.

After the 1997 pledge, there had been a long battle between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury over who would pick up the bill for the subsidies.

Museums and galleries also complained they would lose valuable VAT rebates if entrance fees were dropped altogether.

So Chancellor Gordon Brown made a Budget announcement that institutions would be able to claim VAT back from 1 December 2001 - the date that many finally dropped the entrance charges.

"Free admission has democratised the nation's treasures, making them accessible to all," Ms Jowell said after it became clear that the scheme was a success.

"That has to be good for our children, for students and for those who simply want to enjoy these wonderful exhibits."

Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The V&A has seen the biggest increase
Arts minister Baroness Blackstone echoed Ms Jowell's support of museums, and recently voiced her support for technology-based interactive exhibits.

"Museums should be fun and enjoyable as well as interesting, stimulating and intellectually stretching," she said.

"Sometimes you have to reach out to people and you have to do it in a way that will bring people in, engage them, and then take them through to perhaps more demanding exhibits."

The free entry scheme means a number of national museums in London, including the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Imperial War Museum, are now free.

The British Museum, London
The British Museum was already free
Adult entrance to the Science Museum previously cost 8, and it was 5 for the V&A.

It has also allowed regional attractions including the National Railway Museum in York, the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and a group of galleries and museums in Merseyside to drop their fees.

But the places involved may still charge for special exhibitions.

Only the museums and galleries who already got government funding are covered by the scheme.

It was down to the trustees of each establishment as to whether they went along with the plan - but they all did.


Many of the attractions started letting children in free on 1 April 1999, followed by the over-60s on 1 April 2000.

That had already boosted visited numbers by nearly 20% for children and the by 40% for the over-60s before adult charges were scrapped.

The museums have backed the "tremendous" response from the public - but it has not been such good news for everyone.

The British Museum is one of the institutions that gets annual government "sponsorship" - but did not have any entrance fees to scrap.

So it has not seen any of the compensation that has been handed out to the other attractions in return for becoming free.

'No help'

It could badly do with a slice of that 70m now, having suffered their first staff strike in its 250-year history and is facing a deficit of 5m in three years time.

And many other private, local authority and regional collections are not covered by the scheme.

They include Thinktank, a Lottery-funded museum in Birmingham, whose head Jonathan Bryant was quoted as saying: "What has been done is to end charges for the fortunate residents of South Kensington and foreign tourists.

"It gives no help to the new science museums like mine."

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:

09 Aug 02 | Entertainment
15 Jul 02 | Entertainment
01 May 02 | Entertainment
01 Dec 01 | Entertainment
27 Jun 02 | Entertainment
03 Dec 01 | Wales
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Entertainment stories are at the foot of the page.

 E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Entertainment stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |