Friday, July 2, 2010

Do they know what they are doing? Part 2,358

Somewhere in that speech of William Hague's, which I shall fisk properly tomorrow, there are references that this country can be proud of and use to promote herself and her values abroad. There is the BBC World and Overseas Services, which is mostly deserved and there is a reference to our "world class education", which is a sick joke. Why, I asked myself, when I read that, does not Mr Hague use his favourite concept of networking by establishing links with his colleague Mr Gove?

Being, I assume, a complete philistine the Foreign Secretary omitted to mention such institutions as the British Museum or the National Gallery, which are famous throughout the world with their stellar collections and wondrous exhibitions, not to mention research and conservation. They are, however, in trouble and HMG is making their lives difficult.

As part of the public sector, they are going to have to face cut-backs. Neil McGregor, the brilliant director of the British Museum and a communicator of no mean ability as his enormously successful series History of the World through 100 Objects proves, is a little worried.
Museum director Neil MacGregor said today the immediate three per cent savings demanded this year meant opening hours were “under review” as an “area of quick flexibility”.

There were no immediate plans to charge admission, he said. But he refused to rule it out in the future. Late opening on Thursdays and Fridays could be hit, or some galleries could close periodically to save on staffing.

The museum has also scaled back acquisitions, IT projects and smaller building work. Mr MacGregor said the unprecedented size of cutbacks in prospect meant it was “too early to speculate” on the long-term impact.

The museum, like other institutions, has until tomorrow to meet a government deadline to explain in broad terms what the consequences would be for a further planned cut of 30 per cent.
Well, fair enough, one might say. The public sector needs severe cut-backs though there are parts of it that are considerably less useful and, indeed, more harmful than the British Museum, which has been, with 5.7 million visitors last year, the most popular attraction for the third year running. Can one say the same for DEFRA, which acquires new buildings and new staff with every passing week?

So, what is the British Museum to do? Jeremy Hunt, our new Kultur Kommissar, tells us that the coalition government is committed to free entry. That means they are going to oppose any attempt to charge as it is done in other countries.

There is no suggestion of a tax reform that would make it easier for donors to give and for museums to raise funds. Or, in other words, the coalition government is committed to not letting the museums charge for entry and to making fund-raising difficult while they are also committed to cutting back their funds.

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