Charges for museum entry were scrapped at national galleries in England, Scotland and Wales in 2001. Many of these institutions had previously charged for admission during the lean years of Thatcherist Britain. As a result visitor numbers were seen to serge at museums which became accessible to the general public for the first time in years.
A long debate about free entry, as opposed to charging has been studied at a national level for many years. The current Tory Government has stated their commitment to keeping entry to ‘major institutions’ free but have kept very quiet about their continued support for regional institutions.
Council-funded museums and galleries across the UK are now considering scrapping free entry as they are pressured by council cuts. The head of the Museums Association has warned that is is a distinct possibility which will have far reaching repercussions. York Art Gallery has announced that it will introduce a £7.50 entrance fee after the body that runs it had its council subsidy cut by 60%. That follows Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s decision to charge tourists a similar entrance fee.
The Museums Association president David Fleming said charging for entry was now on the agenda at many other venues that face local council funding cuts. “I’m absolutely certain that museums all over the country are considering introducing admissions fees in order to try to help plug the gaps that are appearing in their budgets,” he said. But the move would only be successful in towns and cities that attract a significant number of tourists, he added.
New research has illustrated that the museums most ‘successful’ in terms of visitor figures were also those which had opened new or newly refurbished facilities and had also introduced free admission. Many museums and galleries survive by having well stocked shops and quality restaurants and tea rooms.
In 1997 The Victoria and Albert Museum introduced a £5 admission charge, visitor numbers halved as a result.