Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20 - 39)



  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 they get?
  (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 on it?
  (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 us.

  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?

Mr 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[2].

  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 out—no, perhaps that is about right[3].

  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, do you?
  (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 future—and I think we have made sure since and will make sure—that 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 exhibition?
  (Dr Borg) Absolutely, we did.

  36. Were you there?
  (Dr Borg) 1992[4].

  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 peculiar?
  (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 this year.

2   Note by Witness: This was incorrect; between 1996 and April 2000, senior citizens were charged, although at a concessionary rate. Back

3   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 15 (PAC 00-01/127). Back

4   Note by Witness: The Fabergé exhibition was in fact held in 1994, not 1992. Back

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