As a big fan of museums, I’m always eager to hear news of how well they’ve been doing since the government scrapped admissions charges. Today it’s been announced that since the charges were scrapped in 2001, visitor numbers have increased by 75%, or 6 million. Considering that it used to be fairly pricey to go to a museum, I’m not at all surprised.
The interesting part of the article is not the increase in visitor numbers, which anyone could have predicted, or the fact that the government has decided to make the change permanent. It’s the fact that the Conservatives would like to give museums the ability to charge what they want, and furthermore, they’d like to charge foreign tourists to enter. Since the Conservatives have zero chance of winning the next election, I’m not particularly fazed by this stunning show of stupidity, but it does warrant some thought.
Presumably the Conservatives simply want to roll back the changes so that along with allowing museums to charge for admission, they’d also remove their VAT exemption, meaning that we’d be in exactly the same position as three years ago – lower visitor numbers, and museums have pretty much the same money they always did. Clearly, a great result, which also happens to ignore the fact that every museum I’ve visited has some kind of premium annex (from IMAX to big dinosaur exhibitions) that makes them a fair bit of cash. There’s no doubt that museums require more funding, but reintroducing admissions charges is not the way to go.
It’s charging foreign tourists that’s the most laughable suggestion. Exactly how would this work in practice? Are museums supposed to check the nationality of every single visitor, so people would have to bring ID, not just for themselves but also for their children? Apart from the additional queues and costs this would cause, any tourist with half a brain would be able to get around it somehow (I can already think of a few ways). Besides, I’m always told by foreign friends visiting the UK how impressed they are that museums in this country are free; it leaves them with a lasting good opinion and makes them more likely to recommend the UK to their friends and relatives back home.
So, in conclusion – keep free admission, give our museums more money, and the Conservatives are stupid.