2.7m extra visits have been made to Government-sponsored national museums and galleries in England, compared with same period last year.
The 62% increase has arisen in the first seven months since free admissions were introduced at 13 institutions directly subsidised by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Over 2.2m extra visits were made to the London museums and galleries which had previous charged for admission, and a further 480,000 to those in the regions, including an increase of 67% at the national Museums and Galleries on Merseyside and a 66% rise at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Welcoming the figures, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said "These figures show how spectacularly successful the Government?s free access policy has been. It is clear that admission charges were acting as a restraint ... one thing is clear, free entry will be protected."
In Wales however, where free entry to eight national museums and galleries was granted in April 2001, 8 months before the policy was introduced in England, talks are just beginning to explore the full range of implications that publicly-funded free admissions are having on some privately-run businesses. A number are now claiming to be losing market share and to be on the verge of bankruptcy because they cannot compete with the free museums. A range of measures have been proposed by the Wales Tourist Board and the National Museums and Galleries of Wales to help support these companies, many of whom are also struggling to recover from the impact of the foot and mouth crisis on tourism in Wales. These include the suggestion that that the Assembly should supply school trip vouchers to teachers to cover entrance fees at privately-run attractions. Although last year, following a long campaign appealing for assembly aid, Welsh Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies said there would be no financial support, a U-turn could now be a possibility, with meetings being held this week to explore the funding of school trips at any attraction deemed to be of educational benefit.