Move to extend museum opening times as revenue left endangered

The Writers' Museum has bucked the trend.
The Writers' Museum has bucked the trend.
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city-owned museums and galleries in the capital are set to have their opening times restored for the summer and festive period after cutbacks led to a dramatic fall in numbers and income.

The City Art Centre, Museum of Childhood, People’s Story, Writers’ Museum and Museum of Edinburgh were reduced from six or seven day opening to just five days in October 2016.

But a review found the move led to an overall decline of 21 per cent in visitors at the five city-centre venues – and as much as 32 per cent at the City Art Centre.

Income from retail sales and donations fell by 25 per cent.

But now the city council’s culture convener Donald Wilson has indicated the venues will return to six or seven-day opening for the summer and at Christmas/New Year.

He said: “There is a general recognition that it wasn’t entirely successful. We’re going to do something different.

“It will be reinstating hours at peak times of the year – in the summer and at Christmas and New Year.

“The idea is when people are wanting to go, they will find them open – and the peak visitor times of the year are when people expect them to be open.

“We’re going to look at varying the opening hours according to our projections of how busy the city is going to be.”

A report to the council’s culture and communities committee says moving to five-day opening led to savings in staff costs of £82,000 in 2016/17 and £84,000 in 2017/18.

But it also resulted in a total drop in income of £76,598 between 2015/16 and 2016/17.

And the report notes: “There were also issues concerning visitor perception and reputational damage. If business as usual were to continue then this may further negatively impact on income, visitor numbers and the service’s reputation.”

The report shows the City Art Centre saw a 32 per cent fall in visitors and a 35 per cent drop in income; the Museum of Childhood has 28 per cent fewer visitors and 25 per cent less income; visitors to the People’s Story were down 16 per cent and income 37 per cent; the Museum of Edinburgh recorded a 13 per cent drop in numbers and 30 per cent in income; while the Writers’ Museum saw a 3 per cent rise in visitors – after a much bigger increase the previous year – and a 1 per cent fall in income.

The fall in visitors at the city-owned venues came as other Edinburgh attractions in the city saw a rise in their numbers, including a 16 per cent increase in visitors to the National Galleries of Scotland and 13 per cent to the Castle.

Asked whether it had been a mistake to cut the opening times, Cllr Wilson said: “It may have caused some annoyance or disappointment for people visiting the city.

“The statistics are inescapable – footfall was down when all other places increased.

“We did not envisage it would have that impact. These are very tight times for local government finance.”

He said he hoped revised opening hours would be introduced by the summer.

But Cllr Wilson said that it would not necessarily mean more staff being employed and he did not expect a budget increase.