National Gallery

Week-long strike over National Gallery services privatisation

Patrick Steel, 06.02.2015
Petition against privatisation of visitor services garners 40,000 signatures
A five-day strike by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) to protest proposals to privatise visitor services at the National Gallery in London is due to end tomorrow.

The museum has argued that changes to the roster for visitor services and security staff are needed to enable extended evening opening on Fridays, weekends and special events, and to increase flexibility in its daily schedule.

It has also stated that, if necessary, it will appoint an external partner to manage those services.

Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery, said: “If the National Gallery is to continue to thrive as a public entity with reduced public money, change is essential. There is no option that allows everything to stay the same.”

But Richard Simcox, a spokesman for PCS, which has more than 200 members at the museum – the majority of whom work in visitor services and security – said: “The main area of contention is the flexibility of the contracts. We are happy to negotiate on this, but it can’t just be imposed. It has to be with the agreement of staff.

“We are committed to reaching an agreement so that the threat of privatisation is seen off, but obviously we can’t have a situation where we are negotiating with a gun to our head.”

The union yesterday handed a petition with more than 40,000 signatures to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, calling for the privatisation to be halted, and urged the House of Commons culture, media and sport select committee to review the running of the museum.

PCS also plans to hold a public meeting at the Commons on Tuesday to discuss the issues.

The museum met members of the PCS, mediated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) last week, but failed to reach an agreement. They will meet again next week.

PCS is calling for the museum to reinstate a member of its negotiating team, Candy Udwin, who was at the first ACAS talks, but was suspended on Monday from her post at the museum and accused of breaching commercial confidentiality.

Simcox said Udwin had simply shared a document – which Museums Journal understands contained information about the costs of using a private company – with a union official, asking them to take up the matter with museum management, and had not given the information to the press or any other external organisation.

A National Gallery spokeswoman said it would not comment on ongoing disciplinary matters relating to individual staff members.

The museum outsourced security and visitor assistance for its Sainsbury wing to CIS Security during its Rembrandt exhibition, which ended last month.

The spokeswoman said that CIS Security had also been contracted to supplement the museum’s permanent workforce to provide core services in the Sainsbury wing “as a transitionary measure… during the coming months”, and for a further three exhibitions this year – Inventing Impressionism, which runs from March to May; Soundscapes, which runs from July to September; and Goya: The Portraits, which runs from October to January 2016.

The Imperial War Museum outsourced its visitor services last year, while the Natural History Museum, Science Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum have a joint procurement agreement for security.

The V&A's visitor services team is all in-house.

The British Museum’s core visitor services staff are in-house, although it hires in agency support for major exhibitions.

All visitor services, information and ticketing staff at the National Portrait Gallery, which is located next to the National Gallery in London, are in-house.

Update
09.02.2015

To include information about the V&A's visitor services provision.

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