Leeds museums and galleries suffer major staff shortages while council restructures - Museums Association

Leeds museums and galleries suffer major staff shortages while council restructures

Leeds Museums and Galleries Service is currently running with 40 per cent of its positions vacant, according to its head …
Patrick Steel
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Leeds Museums and Galleries Service is currently running with 40 per cent of its positions vacant, according to its head of heritage services, John Roles.

The posts cannot be filled until the council approves a staff restructuring across the service, he told Museums Journal. 'For the past year we have had people working across two or three roles,' he said. 'We can't fill any roles until the restructure is approved.'

A spokeswoman for Leeds City Council said there was no specific date for a decision on the restructure, but that the proposals were in the final stages 'so hopefully a decision will be reached soon'.

Part of the restructure is a controversial plan to replace the curators who currently have responsibility for sites including Leeds City Art Gallery, Temple Newsam House and Lotherton Hall, with newly appointed 'keepers' who will have a more managerial function.

According to Bernard Atha, a Labour councillor in the city, the keepers 'will have control of the budgets, and all the staff on the sites including the surviving curators will be subordinate to them, but they [the keepers] will not be required to have any knowledge of the collections or the historic buildings in which they are housed'.

A number of prominent museum directors, including Nicholas Serota, Duncan Robinson, Mark Jones and Neil MacGregor, have written to the council expressing their concerns over the proposals. MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, wrote: 'In its museums and galleries Leeds has an asset of international importance. The collections, of course, are known across the world. But no less important is the outstanding scholarship of the curators, who have researched and published them… I am concerned that the changes now proposed would seriously undermine the role Leeds plays on the national and international cultural stage.'

Roles defended the proposals, pointing out that it would mean 50 new staff across the service, and pay increases for a number of existing staff. He said: 'The keepers will lead the site, be responsible for everything that happens on the site, raise funds and champion the site. This does not in any way preclude curators working on exhibitions. What we want is people working in teams across exhibitions. I don't understand the argument that one person in one part of the organisation can't work with people in another part.'

A source close to the council said that the controversy 'is all coming from one quarter', but that the majority of staff and the union supported Roles. They added: 'At the moment it [the museums service] is very dysfunctional because there are so few staff. It can only improve.'

It has been a difficult few months for Roles, as the £27m refurbishment of the Leeds Institute, the site for the new City Museum, has gone over budget after dry and wet rot was discovered in the roof. The council has applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for a contribution towards the shortfall, and has also agreed to provide additional funds itself, but would not disclose the amount.

Roles said: 'We are still bang on. The building will be finished in July 2007, then it will be fitted out over the next year, and will open in autumn 2008. We are ploughing ahead with it.'

Patrick Steel

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