Brighton Pavilion and Museums staff “concerned” about trust move - Museums Association

Brighton Pavilion and Museums staff “concerned” about trust move

Union considering strike action and legal challenge over council’s plans
Patrick Steel
Staff at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion and Museums (RPM) are “concerned” about Brighton and Hove City Council’s decision to merge the museum service with Brighton Dome and Festival Ltd (BDFL), a charitable trust, in July.

The service’s venues include the Royal Pavilion, Brighton Museum, the Booth Museum, Hove Museum and Preston Manor. Trade union GMB, which represents many of the staff, is considering legal action to reverse the decision.

In January last year that the council approved the establishment of a charitable trust for the museum in April 2018, while considering a merger with BDFL “within four years”. But in November staff were informed that the council was now proposing to go straight to trust with BDFL. This proposal was voted through last week by the council’s Policy, Resources and Growth (PRG) Committee.

According to council documents, going directly to trust with BDFL will minimise costs and disruption, as “staff would only TUPE once, contracts will only need to be novated once, and the RPM would be moving into an organisation which already has an infrastructure in place”.

The decision will see BDFL change its name, board and structure. The newly-constituted board would have two new sub-committees, one focusing on RPM, and the other focusing on the dome, festival, and the music and arts service, which transferred from the council last year. It is envisaged that “both parts of the trust will retain their identities and will share central support services”.

RPM’s budget for 2017-18 is £1.52m, but it faces cuts of £392,000 to meet the council’s financial plan for 2017-20. The council will now defer this cut to 2021-22, when it proposes to reduce its service fee to the trust, with further cuts after 2022-23 “as the trust becomes more financially independent”.

The financial model presented to the PRG committee would see the council funding the reconstituted BDFL to run RPM with £1.18m in 2018-19, £1.11m in 2019-20, £1.065m in 2020-21, then dropping to £734,000 in 2021-22 and £691,000 in 2022-23.

It is envisaged that RPM will retain National Portfolio status with Arts Council England after the transfer, which comes with funding of £689,507 a year from 2018-22.

An arts council spokeswoman said: “The arts council supports the ambition behind the concept of a united cultural trust, which will bring together two of Brighton’s best known cultural assets.

“However, it is for the individual parties involved to identify how this can best be achieved for the benefit of all.”

Museums Journal understands that, under the current proposals, Andrew Comben would remain as chief executive of the new trust, suggesting that Janita Bagshawe, the current head of RPM, would report to him.

Mark Turner, the branch secretary of GMB Sussex, said staff had not been properly consulted over the move to BDFL, and were concerned about the organisation, which he said was not part of the city's living wage scheme, and had no management experience of running a large cultural entity of this scale.

The union was considering a legal challenge, he said, with a view to going back to the original two-stage process and will be meeting members next week to discuss its response, which may include strike action.

Tom Druitt, a Green Party councillor who sits on the council’s Tourism, Culture and Development Committee, said: “Sadly, this is a chronic case of mismanagement of process. There is no good reason why the plans have changed other than it seems easier to go straight to the endgame.

“Last January the council agreed to set up an independent trust, with a view to merging three or four years down the line, enough time for the trust to exist in its own right and merge as an equal. Instead the council is allowing a takeover of the museum by BDFL.

“A consultation with staff is due to take place over the next few months, but if there is no willingness to change the plan, what is the point of the consultation? Staff I’ve spoken to are upset and they have lost trust in the council. People have a right a right to be angry. They have been misled.”

A spokeswoman for BDFL said: “We currently pay all of our permanent staff (of which we have 119, full time and part time) at rates in excess of the voluntary living wage. Overall, 94% of our team is paid above the voluntary living wage.

“Under the proposal, the Royal Pavilion and Museums would be led by the existing management team, with Janita Bagshawe as director of RPM, supported by a new board committee.

“This will be a major trust of national significance, and although the proposal is to use the current charity and corporate entity of BDFL, it would change its agreed purpose, its name, its board, its structure and its business plan, to create a new organisation which is fit for the purpose of managing a high profile and well-respected museums service, alongside Brighton Dome, Brighton Festival and the Music and Arts Service.

“Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival has a proven track record at running a multi arts organisation and annual Festival, with an annual £8.5m turnover.”

A council spokesman said: “This change has been communicated to staff but naturally they have questions about it, and the timescale for the transfer has been extended to 1 July (from 1 April) to allow further engagement including work with the BDFL to build the new operational model.”

Council leader Warren Morgan has written to staff outlining a commitment to ensuring that current terms and conditions will be transferred, staff will be able to remain in the local government pension scheme, casual workers will continue to be paid at their current rate of pay, and the Royal Pavilion and Museums will “an equal partner in the new trust under existing management structures”.

In a separate statement, Morgan said: “We are putting in place a programme of staff engagement to make sure that we explain clearly what the alternatives are that have been considered, and why we have reached this conclusion. The programme will enable staff to become more involved in the vision and operational delivery of the new arrangements and to continue to have their voices heard. I’ve asked that staff are involved at all levels in the new trust to ensure this is the case moving forward.

“I have proposed to trade unions that we work together in advance of the transfer date of 1 July to establish commitments within the contract with the trust, to ensure that staff expertise lies at the heart of the new organisation, and that any concerns they have are given proper consideration. I welcome a positive dialogue with staff and trade unions to make this project a success.”

Leave a comment

You must be signed in to post a comment.