Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 100 - 119)



  100. Again you would survey them rather than make a guesstimate?
  (Dr Borg) They are surveyed in our case by MORI.

  101. Are you concerned that there is a lack of awareness about the family programme that you have?
  (Dr Borg) I am concerned that it should be as well-known as possible and I am sure we can do more to make it better known than it is.

  102. Are you also concerned that while it is reported that as many as 50 per cent of households now have access by computers to the web, only two per cent of your visitors said they were influenced to come by your web site?
  (Dr Borg) Yes, that seems to be curious and we need to make sure that our web site is a good and exciting one for people to want to visit it.

  103. Is it a priority for the Museum because it seems to me that an increasing number of people are making decisions about how to spend their leisure time having surfed the web?
  (Dr Borg) In my view it is absolutely the right priority for the Museum to have not only the best web site that it can but to capture as much information about the Museum and its collections in digital form so that we can put that onto the web for distance learning and such purposes.

  104. What I am getting from some of your answers that you have given this afternoon to me and to colleagues is a concern that at worst the Museum (and museums) regard themselves and are regarded as elitist and therefore they do not go out of their way in order to attract everyone, which is the starting point which we began with, and it worries me that insufficient is being done to address that issue. It is not as simple as counting heads but I am not against counting heads if it has got a financial implication to it. As long as you are getting £30 million in grant-in-aid and you are the second highest museum there is not really any great incentive, is there?
  (Dr Borg) I think what you say would perhaps have been true ten or 15 years ago. I do not think it is true now of the V&A nor indeed, I have to say, of any of our great national museums.

  105. But it is a cushion. I have to confess that I have not been to the V&A for 10 years but I have paid to come in twice because as a taxpayer I am paying a pound a year for the V&A. I am not against protecting and enhancing national collections but I am against that money being spent if museums are not going out of their way to attract as many people as possible to that museum.
  (Dr Borg) Again I agree with you and that is why we are so pleased that we can revert to free admission from later this year.

  Mr Campbell: Thank you. Thank you, Chairman.

  Chairman: Thank you. Mr Ian Davidson?

Mr Davidson

  106. Can I ask in terms of the popularity of the museum, is it the case that once they have been they never go back or do you have regular substantial numbers that make a habit of coming back?
  (Dr Borg) We have what we call our core audience and they come many times. Some people come more than once a week. They are the enthusiasts for the Museum and quite a number of them, of course, live relatively close to the Museum and so can come in on that regular basis. If you have a particular interest in some area of the museum, and this applies to all museums, if you are for example a ceramics collector, you will be a very regular visitor to the V&A because we have the finest ceramics.

  107. I am slightly surprised that some people are there more than once a week. Give me a feel for how many people that applies to. Are we talking ten or 100 or 1,000?
  (Dr Borg) The repeat visitor figure is 50 per cent.

  108. Goodness me. In terms of repeat visitors how many of those are attending as often as once a week?
  (Dr Borg) That is a very small number, probably say a few tens of people who would come that regularly, but people who would come several times a year would very probably be members of our Friends organisation and that number is of the order of 15,000.

  109. So 15,000 are coming more than once and several tens are coming as often as 50 times a year, once a week. Goodness me. That is interesting. Obviously you have managed to get some audiences really quite interested but in terms of the total numbers that means that the number of different people you are getting is far, far worse than I thought when I saw this at the beginning because lots of these people are coming back. Presumably you do not get your hand stamped the first time you visit and then you do not get it stamped again? Presumably these people are counted every time they come in? So the number of different people that come is far, far less than the figure we have had so far so the real cost per head of different people is probably about £50 a head[6].

  (Dr Borg) You are correct that what we count, along with all other museums, is visits not visitors.

  110. If 50 per cent of them are returning more than once then different people could be £75 a head per person. That does put things in a slightly different context. Presumably your Museum is fairly warm and is heated? How many of people that get in free are there just to be out of the cold?
  (Dr Borg) I do not think very many but even if they are that would not in itself worry me because my view of the Victoria and Albert Museum is that anyone who comes across the threshold we should be able to interest.

  111. I understand that. I have it in my constituency and particularly when it is a harsh winter I recognise that the elderly, in particular the poor elderly, do require public buildings that are heated to preserve life, but it does affect the number of visitors that you are attracting for the Museum itself. We have got a substantial number of repeats, a substantial number in out of the cold, so the cost per head for the remaining number is really quite substantial. Can I ask you to give me an indication of how many of the different ethnic minorities are coming to the Museum. I am not clear, I do not have a feel for how many of the Sikhs for example did come. You mentioned South East Asian communities and I am not entirely clear how many those are. Can you tell me?
  (Dr Borg) We know about seven per cent of the entire total of visitors comes from the ethnic minorities and three per cent of that total is Asian.

  112. I am surprised that it is as small as that because the way you were building up the ethnic minorities there I had the impression it was 40 per cent or something like that. It is only seven per cent. That is not really an alibi to hide behind when we are unhappy about your numbers. You are saying we are not doing big numbers but we are doing big things for the ethnic minorities but they are only seven per cent of overall numbers, numbers which include repeats and people wanting in out of the cold.
  (Dr Borg) I would certainly want to increase that number. I would suggest however that seven per cent of visitors from the ethnic minorities is high in terms of national museums. We have collections that appeal to members of those minorities which places like traditional picture galleries do not.

  113. I think that is fair. It is high in comparison to many others but it is not a complete explanation of your overall numbers since clearly they have not replaced the others. Can I ask you whether or not you think it is fair for us to be concentrating upon actual numbers? Do you think we are missing the point? When you were discussing with Mr Williams the point about Fabergé and bringing large numbers in it seemed as if you felt that that was not quite beneath you but you were not wanting to be too popular. Do you think that the excellence for which you strive is to some extent necessarily only going to appeal to a relatively small number and that we ought simply to be concentrating on bums on seats?
  (Dr Borg) I think it is a mixture of both things. I think the Museum—again this applies to any museum—should be attempting to attract large numbers of people for certain sorts of activities but should not neglect those activities and those sort of exhibitions and displays which although we know are not going to attract the same numbers are worthwhile doing because they are bringing in members of society who would not otherwise come to the museum.

  114. So excellence and bulk are not mutually incompatible?
  (Dr Borg) No.

  115. So a concentration on excellence is not an excuse for falling numbers? I notice in the biography that you were appointed in 1995 and looking at the graph on Page 17, Figure 7, the numbers have pretty consistently fallen since you arrived. I am not quite clear why that is. Had it been a question of a change in direction and you were concentrating on excellence and that bled away some of the numbers, I could have understood that. You have said that that is not position. What is the explanation for this fall? Could I add to that on the point that you made about the Mrs Steinberg situation where you indicated that ten years ago it had been a bit dull and boring and all the rest of it, the numbers ten years ago were much higher than they are now, so if it was dull and boring then why were they getting bigger numbers than you are?
  (Dr Borg) We have set in train a series of measures, notably the British Galleries opening later this year and the new Spiral Building, which will ensure that visitor figures increase.

  116. I am not asking what you are going to do about it now. I am asking why has it been so bad from the time you arrived until now.
  (Dr Borg) As I have said, the numbers appear to have declined because of the mix of exhibitions.

  117. What do you mean they appear to have declined? They either have or have not declined?
  (Dr Borg) They have declined.

  118. So they have declined. I thought you were disputing that they have declined. They have actually declined.
  (Dr Borg) They have declined but not consistently. They have gone up and down. They have now gone up 13 per cent turning into, we believe, a continual upward trend.

  119. Really? Are you on performance related pay?
  (Dr Borg) Yes.

6   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 16 (PAC 00-01/127). Back

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