Nation's best displays get league table

Gallery guide: Grading scheme will help to raise funds but bid to stop entry fees fails, writes David Lister
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The Independent Online
The Government has for the first time graded the nation's museums, selecting 26 as being of "pre-eminent" importance to the national heritage.

The objective of the league table, an idea of the last government, is to acknowledge publicly the best museums to help them raise more public and private funds. For that reason the national museums and galleries were not eligible for inclusion, as they are deemed to have a high enough national profile to attract private sponsors and public subsidy.

Yesterday Chris Smith, the Heritage Secretary, unveiled the list of museums awarded Designated Status. Collections ranged from fine arts to London buses and musical instruments. The museums singled out for praise include names such as the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge as well as lesser-known institutions including the Rural History Centre, Reading, and the National Tramway Museum, Derbyshire.

Speaking as he presented the first designation certificate, to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden, known for its red buses, Mr Smith said the scheme would focus attention on outstanding museums. But there was unlikely to be much government money in the near future. "What designation brings is a status which makes museums attractive for a range of different funding, some of which may be in the private sector or the public sector, or the semi-public sector, such as Lottery money."

The list of museums includes 10 science and technology collections, nine social history museums, as well as archaeology, fine arts, decorative arts and natural science displays.

The Stoke-on-Trent Museum Service was designated for its collections on the history of the pottery industry, while the Tyne and Wear Museum was recognised for its collection representing industries around Newcastle. In London, the Jewish Museum, in Camden, was recognised because, although small, it held key collections promoting understanding of Jewish ritual in this country, a spokesman for the Heritage Department said.

The Museums and Galleries Commission director, Timothy Mason, said the scheme was a "celebration of some of the superb museums that we have. It's particularly good to see it's not only the big museums which are being recognised, but some of the smaller ones which are nevertheless important, such as the Rural History Centre in Reading."

Mr Smith said work was also beginning on a scheme to recognise smaller museums with local importance.