Entry fees considered for Welsh museums amid ‘critical’ financial pressures
Chris Haines – ICNN Senedd reporter
Entry fees could be introduced at all national museum sites in Wales due to “critical” financial pressures, a committee heard.
Dawn Bowden told the Senedd’s culture committee that ending free access to museums is under consideration as public bodies look to generate additional income.
The deputy minister for culture said the scale of budget constraints means the Welsh Government and arm’s-length bodies have to explore all options.
Ms Bowden stressed that equality would be a key consideration if charges are introduced – with certain people exempted from charges, for example.
She said: “It is not something that we would be considering or asking the museum to look at and to consider if it were not in a critical situation.
“The budget situation was such that this was an option that had to be on the table.
“Now, I’m not saying that that’s where we will end up, but it would not be responsible of me to rule that out at this stage or to suggest to the museum they shouldn’t be exploring that.”
Plaid Cymru’s Llŷr Gruffydd said there is an air of inevitability about entry charges.
He raised concerns that the national museum has to arrange rotas around the weather in case they need to remove artwork from the walls due to a leaking roof.
He said about £90m will be required to bring the Museum Wales estate up to scratch, asking whether current capital allocations are anywhere near enough.
“The short answer is ‘no, they’re not’,” said Ms Bowden.
She highlighted that an extra £5m was allocated last year and a further £5m for next year to deal with the most immediate repairs.
Ms Bowden said the extent to which ministers can further support Museum Wales is limited.
She said: “We’re not running away from the fact we are dealing with old buildings that need significant maintenance and repair, and we do have to protect those national collections.”
The deputy minister pointed out that the extra capital allocation for the Welsh Government from the UK Chancellor’s autumn statement totalled £5.8m.
She said: “You can see the level of challenge that that presents if we had to go anywhere near meeting the £9m-a-year bill for the national museum.”
Mr Gruffydd also raised evidence from the National Library that trebling its capital budget would not be sufficient.
He questioned the Welsh Government’s long-term ambitions, characterising it as sticking plasters and responding to emergencies.
Ms Bowden responded: “It’s doing the emergency work and prioritising the emergency work as best we can, yes.”
She stressed that capital budget allocations for arm’s-length bodies have been maintained but ministers have not been able to increase them.
Tom Giffard, the Conservatives’ shadow culture deputy minister, asked about the scale of potential redundancies in arm’s-length bodies.
Ms Bowden stressed that protecting jobs has been one of the key priorities guiding the Welsh Government when setting draft 2024-25 spending plans.
She said a culture strategy will be published within the next financial year.
The deputy minister said funding under the cooperation agreement with Plaid Cymru may be repurposed to safeguard as many jobs as possible.
Alun Davies, a Labour backbencher, who represents Blaenau Gwent, suggested it is unfair to expect the culture department to bear the full cost of capital repairs.
Warning of a real national emergency, he said: “The collections represent the soul of the nation and we cannot be the generation that lost these collections.”
During the committee meeting on Wednesday January 17, North Wales MS Carolyn Thomas asked for an update on plans for a national contemporary art gallery.
Ms Bowden told her Labour colleague that the Welsh Government still intends to take the project forward but the budget for next year has been reduced.
She cautioned that an anchor gallery site would be more of a challenge than a dispersed model due to the “massive” investment that would be required.
She said the Welsh Government may have to revise and revisit the proposals, suggesting initial plans to announce a decision by the end of March could be delayed.
MSs pressed the minister about plans for a north Wales museum, with Mr Gruffydd citing evidence from Museum Wales that “they didn’t have a clue what that was all about”.
Ms Bowden explained that the Welsh Government has taken the proposal back in-house after having “terrible trouble” getting the museum to bring forward a plan.
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