The Victoria and Albert Museum is likely to introduce compulsory admission charges and its director believes most visitors could afford to pay pounds 10.
The new director of Britain's national museum of the decorative arts, Alan Borg, has told the trustees that the present system of seeking a voluntary donation is unworkable. At present visitors to the west London museum are asked to give a pounds 4.50 donation when they enter. No pressure is put on them if they refuse to pay. Many clearly do. The average donation is pounds 2.50 and, according to museum figures, the average amount per visitor is pounds 1.
And in a forthright and controversial statement of his views, Dr Borg will shortly go on record as saying that most people who visit the V & A "could afford to pay a pounds 10 entrance fee if they had to".
Until now the trustees of the V & A, headed by Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, the former Cabinet Secretary, have vigorously rejected the idea of compulsory charges publicly, though in fact the board is said to be split on the prospect. Lord Armstrong is thought to be not averse to them, while trustees from the art world such as Professor Christopher Frayling, Pro-Rector at the Royal College of Art, are adamantly opposed.
But Dr Borg is unlikely to be deterred, even though charges will be deplored by many in the museums lobby who say free admission encourages the young and the poor.
Dr Borg introduced compulsory admission charges in his previous job as head of the Imperial War Museum. Today Dr Borg, who took over from Dame Elizabeth Esteve-Coll at the V&A last month, will make his first public appearance at the museum at the presentation of its triennial report.
But he is understood to have told the trustees already that the system of voluntary donations merely tries to make visitors feel guilty, and is not an efficient way of raising much-needed money. The only options are charging or having free admission.
In an article to be published in the journal Antique Collector, Dr Borg spells out his philosophy, saying: "I like the idea of people coming in for free . . . but the truth is that most of the people who visit our museums could afford to pay a pounds 10 entrance fee if they had to. The number of visitors is not important. It's the quality of the visit that is my concern."