Council under fire after Stoke museums restructure
Stoke-on-Trent City Council has been criticised over the restructure of its museum service, which saw a dozen jobs cut at Gladstone Pottery Museum last month.
Phil Rowley, a long-time volunteer at Gladstone, has slammed the council over how it implemented the restructure, saying staff at the museum had faced four months of uncertainty and "severe stress" after being served redundancy notices in January this year.
He said employees who had been told their roles would end on 31 March were forced to work a further three weeks because the correct paperwork had not been completed in time.
Rowley said he had chosen to speak out because remaining museum staff and those made redundant were under a gagging order not to discuss the council's plans.
In a public statement last week, he said: "I believe that the city council has acted unethically in several ways regarding the cuts and I believe that this must be brought to the attention of the public."
Stoke's museum service consists of the Potteries Museum, Etruria Industrial Museum, Ford Green Hall and Gladstone Pottery Museum, all of whose collections are Designated.
The council announced earlier this year that it was planning to cut around 19 roles from the service, including two specialist ceramics curators, and merge staff teams at Gladstone Pottery Museum and the Potteries Museum. It also revealed plans to reduce weekly opening hours at both museums and close Gladstone during the winter months to pursue filming and venue hire opportunities. It estimated that the reconfiguration would save around £560,000 a year over the next five years.
The proposals were heavily criticised by museum and heritage bodies, with the city's Heritage Network warning that they would have an "immediate, significant and long-lasting adverse impact" on museum provision and the city's wider cultural heritage offer.
After a public outcry, the council rowed back on some of its proposals, agreeing to open Gladstone during winter school holidays and putting the curatorial redundancies on hold. This reduced its planned savings to £479,000 a year. The Heritage Network warned the revisions would have minimal impact and said the council had been "tone deaf to the widespread and vociferous public criticism" of the plans.
A dozen redundancies have now gone ahead, with affected roles including painting demonstrators and maintenance staff. The status of the two specialist curator roles is still unresolved, Rowley told Museums Journal.
"[The council] has treated all staff with complete contempt," said Rowley. "The whole thing is an absolute disgrace."
Rowley said it "seems unlikely" that the council will meet its projected target of £125,000 a year from hiring out Gladstone during the winter "as no film company has examined the site so far this year for any new project".
According to Rowley, any income made from such events will not go back into the museum service's budget.
Rowley warned that the cuts at Gladstone would "put the future of the museum at extreme risk", saying "some of us think that the city council is deliberately planning to close Gladstone so that it can concentrate on the Potteries Museum".
The city council did not respond to a request for comment.
I’d like the museum staff at Gladstone to know that they made it one of the best museums in the world, and that I feel for them.