Letter: Save our museums

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The Independent Online
AT LAST a museum story grabs the headlines ("Labour to ditch free museum promise", 5 December). A pity, then, that your writers collude in the metrocentric view that museums begin and end in London. There never was a promise of "universal free admission to the nation's museums and galleries". Despite a clever spin, the government's pledge relates solely to the national museums, offering nothing to the wider community.

Yet again, in terms of public debate and media coverage, the interests of the majority of museums are overshadowed by those of the nationals. There is an important debate to be had about the future of museums, but the admission charges at the nationals have little to do with it. The recently launched Designation Challenge Fund, which offers support for "pre-eminent"collections, is a step in the right direction but only benefits a small number of museums.

Museums across the country add enormous value to the lives of communities. Their collections are as much a part of the nation's heritage as anything in London, and they attract more visitors than the nationals. They make an important contribution to social, cultural and economic regeneration, yet their effectiveness is consistently underestimated.

Museums are trying to reconcile their commitments with year-on-year budget cuts; an increasing number have been driven by revenue constraints to make admission charges and have seen visitor levels fall. If the nationals do not want the money on offer, fine. This provides other museums with the chance to benefit the sector as a whole. A stabilisation programme would allow us to address the long-standing problems.

IAN LAWLEY

Group for Museum Directors

Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

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