A warning was sounded last night that Scotland's major museums and galleries will have to consider charging for entry if funding is cut again by the Scottish Government next week.
Before the crucial spending review on Wednesday, concern has been raised at the possibility of further savings being forced on the country’s major cultural attractions.
Last night, a statement from National Museums Scotland (NMS) said museums would not anticipate plans prior to the spending review announcement, but added: “Once the broader picture is announced, the board of trustees will need to take time to fully consider the situation, and specific plans will be developed from there.
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“At present, we have no plans to introduce an admission charge to the National Museum of Scotland. However, the action we need to take will clearly depend on the scale of the cuts.”
It came as a major Scottish Government consultation, commissioned by Museums Galleries Scotland, was launched setting out a strategy for the sector over for the next decade.
The Scottish museums and galleries sector has 25 million visitors annually and contributes £800 million to the economy.
Last year, both the National Galleries of Scotland (NGS) and the NMS took 4.2% cuts to their funding and next week’s spending review could force the charging option on to the table again.
Both institutions fear the effects of cumulative, year-on-year cuts to their block grants, which may force consideration of the unwelcome prospect of introducing entry fees to the two key institutions in Edinburgh.
The NMS has been enjoying unprecedented success with the reopening of the National Museum of Scotland, with more than 500,000 visitors since it opened in the summer.
However, the grant for the NMS was reduced from £21.3m to just over £20m last year, while the NGS – which re-opens the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, also free, in November –had its funds reduced from £12.5m to just under £12m.
Both institutions would only consider entrance fees as the last resort, once other cost-cutting measures have been explored, and both wish to avoid the measure entirely, as it undermines their plans for access and inclusion.
Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson said: “It would be sad day if our national museums and galleries, after a decade of being free, were forced to introduce entry fees because of SNP budget cuts.
“Back in June I secured a categorical assurance from the Culture Secretary [Fiona Hyslop] that entry would remain free, and I intend to hold her to that promise to ensure the widest possible access to our national collections.”
A spokeswoman for the NGS said: “We know that Scottish ministers are very aware and supportive of the economic, social and educational benefits of successful cultural institutions like NGS and we are sure those will be taken into account in any funding decisions.”
Some in the sector were heartened by the presence of Ms Hyslop at the launch of a major new consultation strategy for the museums and galleries sector in Scotland yesterday.
Entrance fees to national collections are not mentioned in the consultation document, although one of the objectives of the strategy is to “maximise the number and range of visitors to Scotland’s museums through the outstanding quality of their experience”.
Ms Hyslop said: “In Scotland we have a very diverse and geographically dispersed sector which brings benefits and opportunities but also presents some challenges. The final national strategy will address these challenges and help the sector to move forward – to fulfil its ambitions and realise its aspirations. I urge all museums and galleries to take part in these consultations and to help shape their own future.”
Fiona Ballantyne, chairwoman of the Museum Strategy Group and of Museums Galleries Scotland, said: “For the strategy to truly address the needs of the entire sector, it is vital the sector makes its voice heard now.”