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NRM to close – scaremongering or economic reality?

Entrance to the excellent Barcelona Rail Museum is €5.

I probably should not be shocked by seeing headlines that suggest the NRM could be under threat of closure.

Museums are never very profitable and when you have a cost-obsessed government that wants to cut anything they can find in the public sector that is not profitable, they make a fine and easy target. And what better way of bringing back the entrance charges that Labour abolished than  by starting a scare story that the NRM might have to close as a way of frightening its supporters into agreeing to entrance fees.

Am I too suspicious about this?  Possibly, but it does fit very snugly into the policy orientations of a government that has done this sort of thing before.  It has now been 12 years since Labour freed up the public museum system that Mrs Thatcher’s government had introduced fees for, so it is reasonable to ask how successful it has been.  Have other countries followed suit?  The French did in 2008 but as a BBC report 2 years ago concluded, Europe generally retains charging for its public museum sector so that it is a mixed picture with most countries feeling that an element of charging is appropriate.

Labour’s view was (and I do not know if it has changed) an educational argument that freeing up museums would make them more accessible to people who might not normally go to them but this seems culturally naive. It is surely more likely that those of us who already go to museums will just go more often!

I frequently pop into M-Shed, the new Bristol museum, and I see a complete cross section of people there.  Being free, you just go in and spend 30 minutes or so before a cup of tea and a cake beckons.  The cafe does a roaring trade and makes more money for the museum because of the free entrance.  However, M-Shed makes a lot of its aim, which is to celebrate the diversity of history, experience and community that is Bristol and that does make it different from a specialist place like the NRM.

For a better comparison, take a quick snap shot of rail museums abroad: the marvellous French equivalent to the NRM, at Mulhouse is €10.5 to get in and the DB museum at Nurnberg is €5, so the introduction of charging in York is starting to look a bit inescapable.

In the end, economic fears are more likely to triumph over altruistic values about how we are entitled to access our heritage free because we all contributed to the making of it.  So the scaremongering tactic over whether the NRM might close is more than likely to send us running to our wallets to pay the entrance fee than take the risk that it may, indeed, be under a real threat.

And I haven’t even mentioned Flying Scotsman….!

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2 Responses to “NRM to close – scaremongering or economic reality?”

  1. I am sure that this is the reasoning behind the scaremongering, preparing to reintroduce a charge.
    To be honest the NRM is well worth say £5 admission especially if it was pay once and get in as many times as you want per year.

    Posted by Nigel Bird (Books) | June 17, 2013, 2:04 pm
  2. I tend to agree, Nigel. The SS Great Britain gives you 10 tickets for your admission fee to use in a year and that works ok.

    Posted by Howard Parker | June 17, 2013, 3:20 pm

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