Fears of Brexit fallout grow

Sector concerned over the uncertainty surrounding foreign workers, problems with staff recruitment and retention, and potential cuts to funding
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Rob Sharp
Senior figures in galleries and museums are becoming increasingly concerned over uncertainty surrounding the status of foreign workers, as a result of the government’s Brexit negotiations.

The culture, media and sport select committee launched an inquiry into the effect of Brexit on the creative industries, tourism and the digital single market in September. The following month, the Creative Industries Federation published a report on the impact of Brexit on the cultural sector that asked the government to “confirm as a matter of priority that EU nationals currently employed in the UK will be able to stay”.

Members of the Prospect union, which represents more than 3,000 staff in the heritage sector, discussed the status of EU workers at a meeting in October. Alan Leighton, the organisation’s national secretary, raised concerns that the situation of foreign employees was “up in the air”.

Worrying situation

“The response coming back from our members was thinking about the number of scientists and curators in the UK who are from Europe,” he says. “It’s a worrying situation for a lot of members. We’ve got a lot of people who work in senior curatorial and scientific posts at national galleries and museums, who are concerned about whether they are going to be able to remain in the UK, and what life is going to look like.”

Leighton also highlights anxieties over the status of visitor assistants at national art galleries and museums.

“You’ll see a massive proportion of visitor assistants that are from Europe and are very concerned about their ability to stay,” says Leighton.

He is also concerned that Brexit could lead to cuts in arts funding: “We’ve asked our members to look into what Brexit will mean for them in their employment areas and we are collating some information to get a better perspective of what Brexit will look like.”

Suzie Tucker, the head of strategy and communications at the National Museum Directors’ Council, which has submitted written evidence to the select committee inquiry, says: “The main difficulty is that it’s so uncertain what’s going to happen. It’s difficult to be able to know how many EU staff there are in our members’ organisations because that is not data that is recorded.”

She raises concerns over a pay-based visa system for museum employees from EU countries because “pay isn’t very good in our sector”.

Retention issues

Tucker says there could also be problems with recruitment and retention. “The concern is that people will go elsewhere, rather than come to the UK, if the UK isn’t going to be taking a lead in EU-funded projects, for example.”

War rhetoric

In September, Martin Roth resigned from his post as the director of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, saying his decision had been hastened by the rhetoric surrounding the EU referendum. In interviews with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Roth said the vote to leave the EU felt like a “personal defeat” and expressed upset over the “war rhetoric” that accompanied the referendum.

The Museums Association’s response to the select committee said: “The likelihood that immigration controls will impose greater constraints on European visitors travelling freely to the UK will have a damaging effect on tourism.”

The deadline for submissions to the select committee’s inquiry into Brexit was at the end of December.
Workers in the cultural sector
Percentage of freelancers in the                       6.2%
creative industries from the EU   

Percentage of staff in UK’s creative                  6.1%
sector accounted for by EU nationals       
Percentage of staff in museums, galleries        4.0%

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