Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20
MONDAY 19 MARCH 2001
YOUNG, KCB AND
20. There must be pressure on you to try and
massage these figures upwards in order to justify your grant from
the government, is there not?
(Dr Borg) We do not feel such pressure. We believe
that as important as the sheer number is the quality of the work
that we do and the quality of the time spent in educational projects
generally, and that simply counting heads is not the only measure
that we should be applying.
21. There has been a dramatic fall in the number
of visitors and it is worrying, perhaps you can relate that to
your competitors over the road and how they have coped in similar
circumstances? Have you ever undertaken, and if not why not, any
analysis of the reasons for this decline?
(Dr Borg) We have continually undertaken studies of
our visitors, looking at them from all different aspects, and
also a study of why people do not visit. That is a study that
we undertook last year with our two fellow museums in South Kensington.
It is certainly true that the percentage of visitors goes up and
down. You need to look at this in perspective. If you look, for
example, at Table 11 on page 19 you will see that the V&A
is shown with a marked decline. I happen to know that there was
at least one other major national museum in London which had a
larger decline in that particular year.
22. Which one was that?
(Dr Borg) That was the Tate for that year.
23. What is the grant per head compared to the
Science Museum and the Natural History Museum? If you work out
that the Government gives you £30 million for the Department
of Culture, your actual number then was 1.27 million, 350,000
short of the target, 13 per cent less than the previous year,
how does that compare with the Natural History Museum, the Science
Museum and their grant per head from the Government? How much
more successful have they been generating visitors for the grant
(Dr Borg)This is, I think, demonstrated in Table 6
on Page 16 where the various levels of grant-in-aid per visitor
are shown and, indeed, in the year in question we were very high.
That figure is, of course, extremely sensitive to the number of
visitors. If your visitors go down then that figure goes up.
24. That must be something that worries you
very much but you can comment on that in a moment. Can I ask you
what you are doing with the web? There seems to be some criticism
that you are not very imaginative with your web. It is increasingly
important. Are you worried about this and how are you going to
improve your image on the worldwide web and the amount of information
(Dr Borg) I would agree with you that the Web is of
great importance at the moment, and it is something going to be
still more important in the future, and that is why we take our
web site very seriously. We have already made a number of improvements
to it since this Report appeared. We have, for example, something
like 50 per cent of the contents of the National Art Library catalogue
on our web site. We also have an improved diary feature and we
are going to have a completely new relaunched web site later in
the year. At the moment our web site is, I think, very well-designed
but slightly complicated to find one's way around. We are in a
learning period as everyone is with the web. I think perhaps a
rather more simply designed one is going to be of more value to
25. Is reported data from the V&A independently
validated and, if not, why not?
(Dr Borg) It is independently validated by our internal
auditor and that is acceptable to the National Audit Office.
Mr Leigh: Thank you.
Chairman: Alan Williams?
26. What percentage of your visitors pay?
(Dr Borg) Again it varies slightly but as a round
figure at the moment it is just about 50 per cent, slightly above,
slightly below sometimes.
27. What happened when the charges were introduced?
How many paying visitors came the year after the charges were
introduced and what percentage were they?
(Dr Borg) We did, of course, have a voluntary charge
before charges were introduced, and that applied to all visitors.
Once we introduced charges we immediately exempted from all charges
all children and all students and senior citizens, so only a smaller
number of people will have contributed, though perhaps a larger
sum. The charge was set at £5 which it has remained at since
we introduced the charges in 1996.
28. So when in 1999-2000 you were 320,000, nearly
a third of a million, lower than your target, that represented
a loss of income of approximately £800,000?
(Dr Borg) It probably represented less than that.
I would have to work it outno, perhaps that is about right.
29. It seems about right. We are not going to
argue, I am only looking at ball-park figures here. What concerned
me was a comment you made in reply to the Chairman when you said
that numbers are not the only thing you look at. In your position
I would have thought they would be one of the most important things
you look at. Would they not be?
(Dr Borg) They are one of the things we look at. I
think it would be a mistake for us to look only at numbers. If
we looked only at numbers we would know immediately, for example,
the sort of exhibitions that we should do. We cannot of course
in the V&A do a Monet exhibition which the Royal Academy does
(we are not a paintings museum) but our equivalent would be Fabergé.
We would have a whole series of exhibitions on Fabergé
and jewellery and high-value consumption goods. That would bring
in a lot of people, but it would not touch that wide spectrum,
particularly the ethnic minority spectrum, with which the V&A
is in many ways closely involved and we think we ought to be and
should continue to be involved.
30. I do not see it as all that undesirable.
If Fabergé would bring in visitors and help contribute
to your costs, I am all for Fabergé. You do not close the
rest of the Museum down when you hold a Fabergé exhibition,
(Dr Borg) It is a question of getting a balance
31. Answer my question. Most of the Museum would
still be dedicated to exhibits it is already showing.
(Dr Borg) Absolutely
32. Absolutely. That is good enough. In that
case because the rest still has the capacity to attract the already
(admittedly grossly inadequate) numbers you are not likely to
lose many and you are also drawing people in to look at Fabergé
so you have had a bonus, have you not?
(Dr Borg) If we were not doing Fabergé we might
be doing the Arts of the Sikh Kingdoms to which I referred earlier
which we know did bring in a large number of Sikh visitors who
would not otherwise come to the Museum. There are other examples
of exhibitions of that sort which I think it is the duty of the
V&A to put on.
33. When you have one of the highest grants-in-aid
per head per visitor you have to have a duty to the taxpayer to
try and get more people through your doors. The idea is to get
people into the museums. When you get them into the museums looking
at Fabergé they may wander around and see other things
they like and they may say, "It is worth coming here again."
As Mr Leigh said, not in a condemnatory sense, partly because
of the name the Museum has not got the image and people do not
make that initial step across the doorway. So a series of highly
popular exhibitions would actually be very useful, would it not,
particularly in terms of boosting your income?
(Dr Borg) Again I agree entirely, and we have had
a number of exhibitions of that sort. Only last year our Art Nouveau
exhibition was enormously popular. The William Morris exhibition
before that was equally enormously popular and I think our forward
programme contains a number of those blockbuster exhibitions.
I come back to the fact that I personally do not believe that
is the only job the V&A should be doing and I think that simply
counting heads is only one way of measuring the impact that the
V&A makes. The impact that the Museum makes on a whole series
of communities is very important and very large.
34. I am sure it is but I think you are getting
it out of perspective, to be honest. When you are 320,000 lower
than the target, a third of a million below target, you have got
a real problem. Did you for one second take the target seriously
because if you did why did you not show that you were treating
it seriously and do one of the highly popular exhibitions?
(Dr Borg) We did indeed take the target seriously
and I should say that since that period our figures have gone
up by 13 per cent. So the year reported on is a year where the
numbers visiting the exhibitions, and one exhibition particularly,
were very disappointing. We have got to make sure in the futureand
I think we have made sure since and will make surethat
we get a better balance than we had in that particular year.
35. If we take the show of Fabergé, you
brought Fabergé into the arena not me, when did you last
hold a Fabergé exhibition? Did you ever hold a Fabergé
(Dr Borg) Absolutely, we did.
36. Were you there?
(Dr Borg) 1992.
37. As recent as that. My gosh, you are really
on top of the market, are you not? 1992, your top money spinner,
and you have not repeated it since. Does that not seem a little
(Dr Borg) As I said, we have had other blockbuster
exhibitions. I mentioned Fabergé but William Morris
38. I would have been there.
(Dr Borg) You could have been in 1997. Art Nouveau
last year, Art Deco is coming. We are about to open an exhibition
on the Victorian era, Victorian Visions, which will also be a
blockbuster show. There are plenty of these shows but balanced
with ones that we know are going to be less popular.
39. You have all these blockbuster shows, so
you seem to think, but if you look at Page 17 and Table 7P, which
is visitors to the South Kensington museum, you will see that
other than the year of actual charges you have been on a more
or less continuous decline since 1994-95. Your blockbusters do
not bust many blocks, do they?
(Dr Borg) As I said, that trend has now been reversed
2 Note by Witness: This was incorrect; between
1996 and April 2000, senior citizens were charged, although at
a concessionary rate. Back
Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 15 (PAC 00-01/127). Back
Note by Witness: The Fabergé exhibition was in fact
held in 1994, not 1992. Back