Posts cut at National Museums Northern Ireland

Voluntary exit scheme will affect curatorial, HR and admin posts
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Geraldine Kendall Adams
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A voluntary exit scheme underway at National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) has resulted in the loss of a "substantial" number of posts at the organisation.

Museums Journal understands that the most recent cuts have affected a broad range of roles, including curatorial posts and those in HR and administration. The exact number is yet to be confirmed. The organisation employed 217 staff on permanent contract at the time of its most recent annual report, for 2017-18.

The scheme is part of an ongoing restructure that has already seen the removal of more than 30 roles over the past three years. A range of posts in community and public engagement, learning and fundraising have been cut, and the organisation’s senior management team has been reduced from six to three executive directors.

The organisation has created several new posts, including head of engagement and income generation. A spokeswoman from NMNI said the restructure “enables us to reinvest in key areas of our business and address key skills and knowledge gaps”.
NMNI has faced significant cuts to its grant-in-aid in recent years. According to its annual report, it received just under £11m in revenue funding from the Northern Ireland Executive in 2017-18, compared to £11.2m the previous year - a fall of 2.3%. Further cuts are expected. 

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the ongoing restructure has left the organisation in a “volatile” state, with activities such as learning, outreach, volunteer programmes and fundraising falling through the gaps. “It’s at the stage where people are becoming frustrated with all this change,” the source said. 

The voluntary exit scheme has lead to the loss of a "substantial number" of long-serving staff with significant expertise, the source said, warning that the quality of public services could be affected.

NMNI has also been affected by the political situation in Northern Ireland, which has been without a government since a power-sharing agreement between Sinn Féin and the DUP collapsed in January 2017. “There doesn’t seem to be any accountability at the moment – there’s no government to answer to and no-one asking any questions,” said the source.
The NMNI spokeswoman said: "Unlike redundancy, voluntary exit relates more to the person than the post. A range of staff from mainly non-visitor facing roles have left the organisation over three phases of the scheme, which operated across 2016-19.
 
"The reinvestment of resource to date has been mainly in collections and curatorial roles, with further plans to develop visitor services, collections services and education later this year."

In a statement about the restructure, the NMNI said: “Our shared belief in a common purpose – positive societal impact in Northern Ireland – is how we will continue to set out our stall as an organisation, but we also know that we cannot afford to stand still. Like many museums globally, in rising to the challenges of an ever-changing world we must become more purpose-driven, more innovative and more creative than ever before. Standing still in the face of a changing operating environment is not an option.

“As such, we have embarked on an organisational-wide strategy of renewal and refreshment to ensure flexibility, agility and appropriateness in meeting our mission. Whilst we must respond to our current funding arrangements, our most recent voluntary exit scheme enables us to reinvest in key areas of our business and address key skills and knowledge gaps.

“We will continually evolve our structure, our roles and our reporting lines to ensure we build and maintain the organisation’s resilience. This in turn will enable us to effectively respond to the changes in our operating environment and ongoing financial pressures and challenges.
"More importantly and positively, it will enable us to deliver our ambitions as an authoritative and trusted museum service for the people of Northern Ireland and for our visitors from abroad.”

NMNI manages three sites: Ulster Museum in Belfast, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum in Hollywood and the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh.

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