Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. When?
  (Dr Borg) In the current year.

  41. Really?
  (Dr Borg) We are 13 per cent up.

  42. 13 per cent up? Whereabouts does that put you? We are nearly at the end of the year, where does that put you? I make it back to something like the level of 1997-98 looking at the diagram.
  (Dr Borg) We are forecasting just short of 1.4 million this year.

  43. That is almost back to 1998-99. But you are still well below 1994-95. I do not doubt your ambitions but they seem unduly modest.
  (Dr Borg) We also believe that the figures will continue to go up because we are opening later this year the entirely refurbished British Galleries, which account for ten per cent of the Museum's display space and we also have in train the proposal, as I mentioned, to build the Spiral Building which I think will contribute when it is there in a dramatic way to our audience size.

  44. Look at Table 8 on the same page and that shows the three branch museums. The interesting thing is the aberration. The other two seem to be following in the example of South Ken, but then you have the Theatre Museum which has been on an almost continuous growth chart. Why have they been able to achieve growth but the other four units not been able to achieve growth?
  (Dr Borg) I think there are a number of reasons for the success of the Theatre Museum. One, perhaps most importantly, is its location. It is set in the heart of Covent Garden in the heart of theatre land in a very much visited part of London. Therefore the possibility of drop-in visitors is much higher than it is at South Kensington or certainly Bethnal Green, for example, but it is also true to say that the Theatre Museum has had a good and imaginative educational programme which has also brought visitors in.

  45. It is a highly competitive field, is it not, trying to draw visitors in? There are so many visitor attractions and youngsters, particularly nowadays, are used to being pandered, and quite rightly, with hands-on experience, they learn a lot more in that way rather than inanimate, stodgy exhibits. What scope—and I recognise it varies from sector of market to sector—have you discovered, if any, for hands-on approaches in your own operations?
  (Dr Borg) Quite a number and an increasing number. I have already referred to the educational programmes we use, the backpacks, the activity cart in which children make things related to the collections. We also have tours for, for example, the visually impaired where people can handle sculpture and can pick up objects. I think all of those sort of experiences are very important within the Museum generally.

  46. Turning to Page 33 and looking at Figure 23, activity backpacks, to which you have just referred. These are aimed at 5-to-11 year olds, a good age to capture youngsters and get their imagination, and are designed to help families move around the Museum and to explore themes connected with the collections. There are 36 packs in total. I do not know these packs but is it one pack per person. Is a pack something that is individual to one visitor?
  (Dr Borg) That refers to the programme that the pack contains. If you come you are given a particular programme to follow, and there are 36 of those.

  47. That is not limited.
  (Dr Borg) I am informed there are now 50, and they are increasing all of the time.

  48. 50 programmes?
  (Dr Borg) Yes.

  49. How many people at one time would be able to go round with the aid of these backpacks?
  (Dr Borg) Probably about 50.

  50. That is not particularly market oriented, is it?
  (Dr Borg) This is dealing on a one-to-one basis.

  51. That is what I said in the first place, and you said that I was misunderstanding you. If you are talking about attracting youngsters in and you only have three dozen of these visitor aids it does not look as if you will have a highly optimistic view of the numbers you are likely to attract, does it?
  (Dr Borg) That is only one of the activities we provide for children, we provide many others.

  Mr Williams: I am sure they are equally exciting. My time is up, thank you very much.

Mr Steinberg

  52. If you look at Figure 7, page 17 it is quite clear, as has been mentioned by previous members of the Committee, that the number has declined since 1994. It has not been a constant drop, has it? If you look at the chart it tends to have gone up one year and gone down the next year, gone up the next year and then gone down the next year, until eventually it has reached its low in 1999-2000. Can you explain this peculiar pattern?
  (Dr Borg) The pattern is due, almost exclusively, to the varied number that attend temporary exhibitions. Table 22 on page 32 demonstrates it visually.

  53. What you are saying is in the years it goes up it is because you have put something on and in the years it has gone down you have not bothered to do anything extra.
  (Dr Borg) In all years there are temporary exhibitions, but some are better attended than others.

  54. I see. What you are saying is in the years that actually improved there were popular exhibitions taking place and in the years that it declined there were not. Why does it have a pattern like that? Do you plan specifically to have a popular exhibition one year and not a popular exhibition the year after?
  (Dr Borg) We plan to have good exhibitions all of the time. We are aware that some are going to appeal to a wider audience and some to a narrower audience. We see it as part of the remit of the V&A to appeal to all of our audiences, including putting on exhibitions, sometimes directed at what we know is quite a small audience.

  55. Okay. In the years that it seems to rally does that give you a false hope?
  (Dr Borg) I do not think it is gives us a false hope because we are, on the whole, reasonably good, and occasionally not, at forecasting what we think attendance at exhibitions is going to be.

  56. Even so, the figures have declined something like, half a million people over the last 6 years. Whether the exhibitions have been good, bad or indifferent, the fact of the matter is that half a million people less are coming into the Museum.
  (Dr Borg) That trend is reversed now and the figures are going back up. We believe that the opening of the British galleries and the opening of the Spiral building, when that is constructed, will boost our figures very dramatically.

  57. If you look at paragraph 2.7, that does not give you a lot of confidence in the management, does it? It says that in the years 1999-2000 there is a marked drop in visitor numbers. This was quite apparent six months into the year and yet nothing was done to find out why. Why was that? If you saw in that year that your numbers were dramatically falling and it took six months to take some action, why did you take so long?
  (Dr Borg) On the whole we are aware of the reasons why an exhibition does not attract visitors. Taking remedial action is something that is done in the longer term. Museums are, if you like, like oil tankers at sea, they cannot be turned round in a matter of moments.

  58. With great respect, it has been in decline, if you like, in terms of numbers for six years, that is quite a considerable length of time to try and turnaround the oil tanker, is it not?
  (Dr Borg) Absolutely. That trend is now reversed and the longer term measures which we put in place, the refurbishment of the British galleries and the building of the Spiral building, are what will contribute to a permanent reversal of that trend.

  59. Is this borne out in research that you have done?
  (Dr Borg) Yes.

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