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And the £13.16m that the British institutions spent on objects in 2004/5 was less than a quarter of The Metropolitan Museum in New York’s acquisitions bill for the same period.

The figures were released last week as part of the Art Fund’s latest drive to secure a pledge for proper museums and galleries funding from the government.

The UK’s largest independent art charity hands over £4m each year to help save art and artefacts for the nation and has campaigned tirelessly to overcome what director David Barrie calls the scandalous lack of public funding.

A string of their initiatives – some actively proposed by the government, such as Sir Nicholas Goodison’s report on tax breaks to help save art for the nation – have hit the buffers once the Treasury have looked at the budget implications.

Now the Art Fund’s survey of what the world’s major museums have to spend highlights just how poorly Britain’s museums and galleries fare compared to their rivals abroad.

The long-term effects of this disparity is that domestic institutions simply can’t compete for national treasures when they come up for sale, argues Dr Barrie.

“If the money cannot come from public funds, then steps must be taken to encourage private philanthropy, through better tax incentives,” his report concludes.