Despite fears that ending free admission was necessary to ease the museum's financial problems, the board rejected a suggested pounds 5 fee which would have raised pounds 8m a year. The trustees, who include Sir David Attenborough and Sir Claus Moser, said such a move would be regrettable. But it would remain "under active review". Dr Robert Anderson, the museum's director, said: "If funding continues at these levels it would be difficult for us to remain free."
Stressing his opposition to charging, he added: "I am very anxious to remind everybody that the collections here are public collections ... I think we should allow anyone who wishes to come to come without consideration of further cost."
The central London museum, which attracts more than six million visitors a year, suffered a pounds 1.3m cut in this year's Government grant, but was given promises of an increased allocation over the next three years.
However, a report prepared by former Treasury official Andrew Edwards for the museum predicted a deficit of up to pounds 25m by the turn of the century.
Yesterday Dr Anderson said some reduction in staffing levels would be carried out and all areas of expenditure and income generation were being appraised.
Andrew Edwards' report, commissioned by the museum after warnings last year from Government of probable cuts in funding, said there was scope for at least a 20 per cent reduction in staffing - more than 200 people. The discussions on the museum's future come as the Royal Academy of Arts announced it had pounds 3m debts and faced a "serious financial problem".Reuse content