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).
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.