AS MUCH as it pains me to say it, the commitment to free entry to national museums, instigated by the last Labour government, is one policy that I not only support, but think was enlightened.
Today, as austerity continues and shows no sign of abating, questions have been raised about the policy. Tristram Hunt, the Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, has forcefully argued that the income raised by charging would be very useful, especially to museums outside of London, and that, in particular, the funds could be used to contribute to the much depreciated curatorial budgets.
He is right, to a point. Charging would bring in money – welcome, as there are serious financial pressures to alleviate – with managers at both National Galleries of Scotland and National Museums Scotland saying they are struggling with frozen budgets. Times are hard.
But, by giving up on free entrance, we stand to lose more than we would gain. What is at stake is the idea of who owns these collections and who they are for. When they are free, it is clear that they are ours – that they belong to the people.
The arguments for free access need to be restated, the naysayers challenged. Reintroducing charging would cost us far too much.