SOUTHAMPTON’s museums and city art galleries could become a charitable trust in a bid to save money.

Civic chiefs are considering the move after it was revealed the city’s taxpayers have been left with a £430,000 bill to prop up the SeaCity Museum.

It opened in 2012, and despite a good first year when 143,000 people visited the maritime museum, visitor numbers dropped to around 100,000 in its second year.

The museum, opened to coincide with the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, is currently running at a loss and the council has funded it to the tune of £430,000 over the past two years.

The Labour-run council’s finances and leisure chief, Stephen Barnes-Andrews, said: “While it is disappointing that the numbers were not stronger in our second year, it is not unusual for major attractions to see a drop-off during this period. “Running a modern and engaging museum costs money, but this has to be weighed against the benefits of attracting visitors to the city who in turn help to boost the local economy. “Recent survey results showed us that 70 per cent of respondents stated their primary reason for visiting Southampton that day was to visit SeaCity Museum. “Promoting the museum to the public and attracting the visitor numbers we would like to have is challenging in very competitive market.”

He said the museum’s marketing strategy may be revised to reach out to a wider audience.

And council leader Simon Letts said the museum could become part of a new charitable trust, along with the Tudor House museum and City Art Gallery.

He said the move, which could materialise over the next 18 months, could see the museums pay less business rates if they become a charitable body, while up to £250,000 a year could be raised through Gift Aid.

He added: “If you bring those two elements together you will pretty much close the gap. We’ve been told that having a private company operate it would require a fee that could be as large as the amount we are currently paying.”

But Conservative opposition finance spokesman John Hannides, leisure chief when SeaCity opened, has urged Labour to look at outsourcing the museum.

He said: “We don’t want this to become a downward spiral for the museum.

“I want the council to look at outsourcing the management of the museum and to bring in specialist experts with a track record in running major attractions.

“It is a very competitive marketplace and there are more attractions opening, and if we don’t go for a more ambitious approach we may lag behind.”