Buoyant 6 months for York Museums

The York Museums Trust says that it has had a very good six months. The figures are contained in a report being presented to the York Council.

Like other major visitor attractions in the City, the autumn and early winter saw large number of customers.

Attendances at the two major Museums and the Art Gallery saw increases compared to the same period in the previous year.

The Trust says, that the ‘YMT Card’ scheme, introduced in summer 2015, remains “very popular” “Over 50,000 ‘YMT Cards’ have been sold to date, there are currently 24,500 active card holders and 55% of members are York resident, (meaning 14% of adults within the CoYC boundary have purchased a YMT Card)”.

The Trust has general reserves of over £2 million. It expects to sustain these over then next 5 years. The Trust does not mention any restricted funds in its report.

The YMT receives a grant of £300,000 a year from the York Council.

York Council still in a muddle over local QUANGOs

The York Council’s Executive is to consider its relationship with agent bodies and companies tomorrow.Quango list

The move comes in the wake of criticism of several bodies not least York City Trading where audits revealed that inappropriate payments had been made.  Other problems arose in relations with the York Museums Trust over charging arrangements and Make it York where apparently unilateral decisions angered residents

The organisations concerned depend on Council taxpayers for a lot of their income

One common criticism was a lack of transparency shown by the organisations (they are not subject to Freedom of Information legislation).

Concerns were also expressed that performance indicators – where published – were inappropriate or “soft”.

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

Campaign against secrecy started 5 years ago

The expectation was the new Council would shake up the bodies and inject more democratic accountability.

Instead a disappointing report concentrates only on governance issues. Steps are being taken to separate executive and customer functions but little else. We will still have a bureaucratic muddle with little consistency and no new commitment to openness.

If approved without change, the Council will stand accused of ignoring many of the concerns expressed by taxpayers over the last five of years.

Important decisions affecting the City will continue to be taken “Behind Closed Doors”

Art Gallery charges – decision in September

The Councils new more democratic decision makers decided last night that more information was needed before they could “clarify” the terms of its building lease to the York Museums Trust.

After an all party debate the responsible Executive member nodded through a proposal to defer the decision.

The YMT had planned to introduce admission charges at its new Art Gallery when it opens at the weekend. It is still able to do so, although the terms of the lease require it to provide free entry for York residents.

The Museums Trust will need to act promptly now to deal with the confusion as they are actively marketing an alternative (to the Councils Yorkcard) season ticket.

It is a shame that so far more formal records of meetings, which took place in the spring between the then Labour leadership of the Council and the Museums Trust, have not been published. Expectations on all sides might then have been clearer.  Incredibly some Labour Councillors are now claiming to be opposed to charging even though they – together with Green Party Councillors – voted through the cuts in subsidy in March – the decision which prompted the YMT move.

The Council has little in the way of moral high ground to retreat to on the principle of charging. It charged for Art Gallery admission when it directly managed the facility up until the middle of the last decade (when the Council was also mostly under Labour control).

Museum charges

Charges have always been levied at the Castle Museum (£10) and Yorkshire Museum (£7-50p).  There are no lease restrictions on the latter.

Children are entitled to free admission

As we have said previously, the Councils Executive member simply could not make a decision, on easing the restriction included in the lease,  without being clear about the impact on the Trusts business plan and without a public debate about all the options available.

There is also the wider issue of public access to the plans and results of York’s burgeoning number of QUANGOS. Others (libraries, economic development) depend even more heavily than the YMT, on taxpayers subsidies to keep them afloat. None publish details of their management meetings.

That charging decision will now be made at an Executive meeting taking place in 24th September

 What might happen, if the Council and YMT are not able to agree a compromise, is a moot point.

 If the Trust simply ignored the restrictive covenant clause, then the Council might ultimately terminate the lease. As the Council no longer has the capacity or expertise to run the gallery and museums, that could lead to their closure.

A legal wrangle about the enforceability of the lease clause could sap the resources of both organisations.

On the other hand, if the Trust demands money, to make up any shortfall in its income resulting from a decision to continue to allow YorkCard holders free admission, then the cash strapped Council would be unable to provide it.

Some compromise is required and quickly now.

York residents face price hike for entry to museums and art gallery

Angry mob - museums

A report to a leisure committee meeting taking place on 22nd June confirms that residents will pay for admission to the Art Gallery, and local museums like Castle, in future.

The Museums Trust is launching its own YMT card which will cost £22 a year.

This will offer unlimited access to York Castle Museum, the Yorkshire Museum & Gardens and the newly refurbished York Art Gallery for a year. The YMT Card saves £5 compared to buying individual day tickets for the three YMT charging venues.

It is clear that, if the Council want free entry for York Card holders to these venues, they will have to increase their subsidy to the Trust.

The move by the Trust is being viewed as retaliation for the decision taken by the former Labour controlled Council to cut its grant from £1.6 million to £600,000 pa.

Admissions to the two museums have remained fairly steady over the last 3 years with between 162,000 and 170m000 visitors being recorded each year.