THE National Railway Museum in York could reintroduce entry charges - or even close - in the face of looming Government funding cuts.
The Science Museum Group, of which the rail museum is a part, says it will have to address a large projected operating deficit from 2014 onwards because of cuts in Government grant in aid.
Asked if its options included reintroducing admission charges or even closure, a spokeswoman said: “ “We are looking at a range of options, it’s important that we explore all possibilities to make sure we balance the books.”
The museum formerly charged for entry but free admission was introduced in 2001 as part of a drive by the then Labour Government to allow the country's heritage to be accessible to everyone.
The latest news has caused concerns for York tourism chief Gillian Cruddas, who said a key draw for the city’s visitors was the varied mix of attractions -and having a free national museum was a key part of that mix.
“We know that visitors come specifically to York to visit the National Railway Museum and as part of their trip they also visit other attractions and eat, drink and shop in the city, so any changes would have a wider economic impact,” said Mrs Cruddas, chief executive of the tourism organisation Visit York.
The cuts could also affect the National Media Museum in Bradford, and York council leader James Alexander said in a joint statement with Bradford council leader David Green that their authorities, along with Manchester, had met with the museums group to discuss how they might support the museums’ future in the face of the ongoing cuts.
“We are keen to encourage increased collaboration across these museums and with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills,” they said. “They are important contributors to our educational, tourism and cultural offer, providing a very real reflection of the country's commitment to science and technology and our economic growth.”
The museum spokeswoman was unable to give details of the projected deficit. She said the museum was currently improving visitors’ facilities, including the refurbishment of cafes and the installation of a new ‘Mallard Experience’ simulator in time for the Mallard 75 anniversary celebrations next month. The majority of the costs of the investments would be covered by the simulator company and catering provider.
She said the museum group received £43.6 million in grant in aid in 2012/2013, and it was continually looking at new ways to generate income.