Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
MONDAY 19 MARCH 2001
YOUNG, KCB AND
60. You have carried out research to find out
why the numbers have declined?
(Dr Borg) We have carried out research to find out
why people come, why people do not come, what it is that they
want to see and what new things they want to see.
61. Why do they not come?
(Dr Borg) They do not come for a variety of reasons,
some of which have been touched on already. People are, in some
instances, unaware of what the museum contains; some people find
the building forbidding; some people think it is not for them.
It is getting across to the public that do not come what it is
that the V&A has to offer.
62. I might come back to that in minute or two.
I just want to go on to the museum charges. I can remember being
on the Education Select Committee a number of years ago when we
did a rather extensive investigation into charging for museumsthat
must be almost 10 years ago nowand we came to the conclusion
that it was a bad thing. You told the Chairman that since the
museum charges were introduced admissions were down by 15 per
cent, did you say?
(Dr Borg) About 10 per cent, we were forecasting 15
per cent, but it went down by 10 per cent.
63. Why were they introduced?
(Dr Borg) Because the Museum was unable to balance
its budget without taking some severe measures.
64. If you were unable to balance your budget
and you put charges on, presumably that would reduce your budget
because less people were coming in?
(Dr Borg) No. When people were coming in before we
were not making an income from them. It was a difficult decision,
but we were faced with very high running costs and the way we
decided to balance the budget was to charge rather than to reduce
the services by closing on one or two days a week.
65. It was not very successful introducing charges.
(Dr Borg) Charges have produced a significant income
and they have also enabled the Museum, up to the last budget,
to recover VAT, and that has been very important for us. The major
obstacle in removing charges has been the VAT issue rather than
the charge itself.
66. It seems to be a chicken and egg situation,
does it not, because the more you charge the less visitors you
get and the worse your balance sheet becomes. If you look at Figure
6, the V&A grant-in-aid is something like £24 per head
of visitor, whereas if you look at the other extreme, if you like,
the National Portrait Gallery is something like £5 per head
per visitor. This clearly shows you have a dilemma, does it not?
(Dr Borg) It shows we have a dilemma, but you have
to look behind that sort of figure; the National Portrait gallery
has a few thousand objects, the Victoria and Albert has four million.
67. I am not sure I understand the point?
(Dr Borg) The more objects there are the more it costs
to look after them.
68. Three quarters of them are locked away.
(Dr Borg) They still require to be looked after, to
be maintained, preserved and made available to the public.
69. It seems to me the less the number of visitors
you get the higher your charges go up in terms of per head subsidy?
(Dr Borg) The higher the cost per visitor, yes.
70. Yes. Mr Young, when does the position become
(Mr Young) One reason we introduced the system of
funding agreements and the consistent collection of data was so
we could have exactly that discussion. Before the last two years
there were no figures comparable for all museums and galleries
which showed, for example, the grant-in-aid per head and the cost
per visitor, and so on. We now have a battery of indicators set
out in this Report in one of the appendices, which sets out all
of the indicators and targets, for the first time, we have for
all 17 of our national museums and galleries.
71. You are still not answering the question.
(Mr Young) I was coming to that. When they hit and
miss our targets we call the Chairman and the Director in to account
to us and we discuss what they intend to do about it. In this
case the V&A in South Kensington have produced a 13 per cent
increase in visitors. We are in discussions with them now, in
light of the Chancellor's statement in the budget, which would
enable the trustees to make the Museum go free, if they so decide.
We have heard their wishes and we are going to discuss the increase
in business further. They have already turned the ship around,
to use Dr Borg's tanker, but in discussion with them we are going
to urge them to go further and increase the number.
72. You still have not answered the question,
at what stage do you say, "We have to pull the plug here"?
Does it reach £25 per head, £30 per head, £40 per
head, or what?
(Mr Young) The whole objective of our discussion is
to turn it around. We see it reducing. If it fails we will have
to carry on discussing it with them. It is a national collection.
73. Would you ever pull the plug?
(Mr Young) My objective is to turn these things around,
to keep these priceless collections open to the public.
Mr Steinberg: I can remember when I was Chairman
of Finance at local authority that because of the cost of £1.25
in grant-in-aid per swim in the swimming baths the plug was pulled,
if you like.
Mr Leigh: Literally.
74. There was not very many people swimming
(Mr Young) Our aim in all of these discussions is
to stop that situation and to reverse the trend and increase the
75. Can we go on to targets? We have sat here
now for four or five weeks and we have discussed targets, we have
discussed targets with the Dome, we have discussed targets with
the Leeds Armoury, and I get the impression that these targets
are cynical ways of justifying the existence of the Museum. The
targets are adjusted at the end of the day to achieve what you
want to achieve, in other words you do not have to do anything
radical, all you do is you change the targets, and say, "We
have now achieved our targets", and it just goes on and on
and on, it sort of bubbles long. How serious are the targets?
(Mr Young) Extremely. We are doing really rather well
by contrast with some of the other projects that you referred
to this year 2000-2001.
76. You can have as many targets as you like,
but it really all boils down to attracting visitors.
(Mr Young) 20 per cent more visitors have been attracted
to our 17 museums and galleries in 2000-2001 than the previous
year, a 20 per cent increase, which I hope you agree is not bad.
If we carry on doing that that is good news. Admittedly some of
that is caused by Tate Modern, however even for the rest there
is a healthy increase in the numbers, we are talking about 28.3
77. I must confess I did not know what was in
the Victoria and Albert Museum. When my kids were younger my wife
used to come down to London and take the kids to all of the museums,
she was an educationalist. I said to her, "What did you see
in the Victoria and Albert Museum when you were there?" She
said, "I cannot remember". Does she have a bad memoryI
suspect she might haveor was she not all that impressed?
I suppose it is not a fair question, however she could tell me
what she saw in the Portrait Museum, she saw portraits. She could
not tell me what she had seen in the Victoria and Albert. It did
not make a great impression on her.
(Dr Borg) If your wife was visiting more than a decade
ago then I would sympathise because the Museum has made very large
strides in re-displaying its collections over the last ten years
and I would like to think that if she comes now she will remember.
78. Again, we have got the Leeds Armoury and
we have got the Dome. When research was being done to find out
what the attractions were, they asked people coming out, and they
said it was very good. You would not expect them to say much else
really, and here 90-odd per cent said it was very good. What you
have not seemed to have done is any research of people who have
not been and asked them what they want and why they have not been.
Surely the research should be done the other way? Why does that
research not appear to have happened?
(Dr Borg) It has now happened. We have done research
on why people do not visit and there is a whole series of reasons,
one of which is not knowing what is in the museum, also they find
the museum physically rather formidable, and we need to get better
at telling people what is inside.
Mr Steinberg: I have got a message saying "your
plug has been pulled". I suspect he does not want me to ask
any more questions.
Chairman: Alan Campbell?
79. We might all struggle to answer the question
what is a museum like the V&A for so let me ask a more straightforward
question; who is it for?
(Dr Borg) Who is it for?