Big drop in visitor numbers at York Museums

A new report reveals that visitor numbers to Museums in York fell by 18% last year.
Castle Museum

Castle Museum

342,936 people visited the Castle, Yorkshire and St Mary’s Museums compared to 417,857 in 2014.

In total 60,788 people visited the new Art Gallery between its reopening in August 2015 and April 2016. This was well down on the Museums Trusts own (annual) target of 190,000 and compares with a total of 226,404 who visited between April 2011 and April 2012 (before the Gallery was modernised and charges introduced).

The business plan for the Museums and Art Gallery, published in 2013, talked of “raising total visitor numbers to 900,000 by 2018”.Attendance number 2015

In a report to a Council committee, the Museums Trust blames the floods and lower tourist numbers in the City for the disappointing performance.

It says it has issued 1022 YMT (discount) cards to benefit claimants who therefore enjoy free admission to the attractions, as can those aged under 24.

In total 8,140 York residents have taken up the option to get a YMT card.

The Trust points to excellent customer satisfaction results at all its sites. 99% of visitors were either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their visit.

No financial figures are provided in the report.

The Trust is receiving a subsidy of £607,000 from the York Council this year.

York Museums Trust (YMT) – York Council publishes review

Taxi-to-York-Castle-MuseumExecutive members will be asked to approve recommendations arising from a York Museums Trust (YMT) Scrutiny Review at a meeting on Thursday 28 April.

The recommendations are proposed in a report from the Learning & Culture Policy & Scrutiny Committee to the Executive. The report was informed by a task group which reviewed the legal framework and the funding arrangements between City of York Council and YMT. This review aims to ensure long-term confidence in the council’s commitment to the Trust and proposes a robust framework to secure the commitment of the Arts Council and other funders and investors.

The report makes a number of recommendations regarding the council’s future financial contribution to YMT, based on four key elements – common objectives, agreed reporting mechanisms, a long term financial plan and a projected capital development plan. Recommendations also include proposals for the future arrangements for the conservation and protection of the Trusts’ collections, as well as ensuring that YMT can operate as an effective, business-like charity.

Legal advice will be sought to identify the best approach for the charitable framework and to establish whether the existing scheme can be extended or whether a new scheme is required.

The report acknowledges the outstanding achievement of YMT, operating with reduced local authority funding due to financial pressures, in comparison to other such organisations across the country which are.

If the recommendations are adopted, the process to agree the council’s grant to YMT for 2017/18 and beyond will begin.

Executive takes place on Thursday 28 March from 5.30pm and is open to members of the public or is available to watch live online from:

To find out more about the report, or to attend, visit:

Arts Council gives York Museums Trust £1.23m each year

Details of the latest assessment made by the Arts Council of England on the Museums Trust have been revealed in a sheaf of correspondence released under Freedom of Information legislation.

click to access

click to access

The Arts Council assessment rates the organisation as “strong” or “outstanding” judged against a series of goals.

In addition to the Arts Council funding, the approved core subsidy (agreed by the then Labour led) Council was:

2014/15 (actual)

Revenue funding – £1,105,366

Capital funding – £1,250,000

2015/16 (commitment)

Revenue funding – £605,366.40

Capital funding-  £850,000

The correspondence reveals some confusion about an allocation of £500,000 in the Council’s capital budget. Although badged in February’s papers as for the “Museums Trust” it turned out the money was intended for completion of the remodelling of Exhibition Square. The Trust had hoped to hijack the funding to improve the gardens behind the Gallery.

The papers also reveal that the numbers using York Cards to gain admission to Trust buildings recently (the Art Gallery was closed during the period under review) were:

Castle Museum 01/04/14 to 31/05/15

Adults – 18,169

Child – 7,362

Young Person – 370

Yorkshire Museum 01/04/14 to 31/05/15

Adults – 10,337

Child – 6,512

Young Person – 98

The information provides some insight into how the Trust balances its books.  It may however reinforce the campaign for greater transparency in the working of Yorks growing army of QUANGOs (Museums, Libraries, “Make it York”, Theatre Royal, CYC Ltd etc.)

The paper also reveals that the Council doles out “VIP” invitations to events like the opening of the new Art Gallery. Traditionally Councillors have paid for any tickets received for events where there is – for others –an admission charge. Over the last few years  some Councillors have been slow to make hospitality declarations on their register of interests, although Labour raised the lower limit for such declarations to £50 per event three years ago.

Some of the correspondence will make a sobering read though for @nayre who is variously referred to in the correspondence as Cllr Nayre and Cllr Ayres (close relation of Pam no doubt)

Well Know poet

Well known poet

Well know Councillor

Well know Councillor


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.

Return of democratic debate in York?

Today sees the York Council take a faltering step back towards the kind of all party consideration of proposals not seen since 2008, when the Executive Advisory system was scrapped.

An all party meeting will consider whether to relax an agreement with the York Museums Trust (YMT) which gives Yorkcard holders free access to their galleries.

YMT charging report extract July 2015

As we said, when the report was published, we believe that important background information has been omitted from the report. Not least this would include estimates of the numbers of customers who might be effected by any changed arrangements together with the business plan assumptions being made by the Trust.

However this may simply reflect the dangers of outsourcing public services to quasi independent trusts and social enterprise bodies. Such bodies are able to source additional funding streams but transparency suffers. These may be similar problems with the arrangements now in place for the management of the libraries and economic development in the City (Make it York).

At the moment, the YMT provides an annual report to the Council and is subject to public questioning about their performance and plans. The last session took place on 22nd June

Today the proposal is that the Council clarify with the YMT that they can charge a discounted admission price to YorkCard holders. This would not require an amendment to the lease of the museum buildings (and consequently is not a “key” decision in Council terms). Any decision on charging levels would effectively be made by the YMT.

If the Council committee recommends that an estimated additional £400,000 subsidy be provided to “buy off” the charging plans (by reinstating historic levels of financial support) the Executive member does not have the powers to endorse such a proposal. It would become a “key” decision requiring a budget amendment and would have to be referred, via the Councils Executive, to the next full Council meeting (on 8th October).

Whether the YMT could sustain its operations in the interim might be a matter of conjecture. The new Art Gallery is due to open at the weekend. They would no doubt point out that 9 months had elapsed between the (then Labour controlled) Council making a decision to cut the subsidy and the Council addressing the consequences of its actions.

NB. When the Art Gallery was under direct Council control (until the middle of the last decade) an entry charge was levied. Admission numbers were low.

York Art Gallery refurbishment has £700,000 funding shortfall

Art Gallery remodeling

Art Gallery remodeling

A report to a Council meeting next week reveals that the York Museums Trust still has to raise over £700,000 to meet the cost of its Art Gallery refurbishment project.

The £8m scheme is expected to be completed in 2015 with 60% more exhibition space, improved visitor facilities and a new Centre of Ceramic Arts.

The Museum Gardens were awarded a gold medal by Yorkshire in Bloom. The gardens to the rear of York Art Gallery are to be expanded with three new gardens established.

Richard III head

Richard III head

The Trust is also refurbishing the Debtors Prison at the Castle Museum following a successful £1.1m bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund. The first exhibition to be held in these new spaces will be 1914: When the World Changed Forever, a major changing exhibition on the social impact of World War One. This work will begin in November and will be open to the public in June 2014

Overall visitor numbers to York’s museums showed an increase of 2% this summer although much of that is put down to an exhibition of Richard III ‘s reconstructed head.