Former banker takes hold of the purse-strings at British Museum

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The Independent Online
THE BRITISH Museum has appointed a former investment banker as managing director in an attempt to increase its income and stave off a financial crisis. Suzanna Taverne will work alongside Robert Anderson, the museum's director.

The museum, among the most popular in the world, receives more than six million visitors annually but only pounds 600,000 in donations.

Ms Taverne will have ultimate financial control and will take over the role of accounting officer, a title traditionally held by a director and accountable to the Government. The post has never before gone to someone with a financial background; traditionally an academic has been chosen.

Her appointment comes after a report in 1996 said the museum was facing a financial crisis. Andrew Edwards, the author of the report and a former deputy secretary at the Treasury, said the museum would have to end its long-standing tradition of free access to the collection and warned that the British Library's move from Bloomsbury to St Pancras would deprive the museum of pounds 3m a year in rental income.

He found that the museum, which has been run on a tight budget since it was established in 1753, had no finance director and no qualified accountants on its staff. He predicted that it would accrue debts of millions of pounds unless it took radical decisions. The appointment of Ms Taverne, the daughter of the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Taverne, appears to be one of those radical decisions.

A spokesman for the museum said yesterday that many improvements had been made since the report and that Ms Taverne's appointment was simply a question of strengthening the senior management. "We are in a much better position now and although we are not home and dry we are making big efforts," he said.

"Ms Taverne will be responsible for increasing our income and working alongside the director so that he can concentrate on curatorial and scholarly matters."

Mr Anderson said yesterday that he was looking forward to working with Ms Taverne, with whom he will share equal pay and status. "She brings with her a new range of skills which will prove to be of great value as the museum develops its public service to a higher plane," he said.

Ms Taverne said: "I will be looking to raise the museum's income from the private sector and also looking at what people spend on publications and in retail outlets, which also needs to increase.

"The museum has very large ambitions and I will be looking to see if they are doing as much as they can, and working in conjunction with the director to help it achieve those ambitions."