The Roman gallery at Yorkshire Museum

Museum and heritage sector faces more redundancies

Jonathan Knott, 29.07.2020
The National Trust may cut up to 1,200 jobs and York Museum Trust enters into redundancy consultations
More museum and heritage organisations have announced they are making or consulting on redundancies amid fears that the government’s support package will arrive too late to save many jobs in the sector.

The National Trust says it could cut up to 1,200 jobs and York Museums Trust (YMT) is entering consultations with staff “which may regrettably lead to some redundancies”.

Meanwhile, London’s House of Illustration has made four posts redundant after deciding not to open until a redevelopment in a new location is completed in 2022.

The UK government has announced further details of its support package for culture.

But hundreds of jobs in the sector have already been put at risk. Organisations that have recently announced redundancy consultations include Southbank Centre in London; Tate; Historic Royal Palaces; and Birmingham Museums Trust.

National Trust director Hilary McGrady told staff today about the need to cut jobs. The trust expects to lose up to £200m this year because of the coronavirus pandemic, and is proposing spending plans that include a possible 1,200 redundancies.

It hopes to save £100m, a fifth of its annual spend, through a full spending review, and says 40% of the savings are planned through non-pay spending cuts.

McGrady said: “We have reviewed our spending and ways of working to ensure we emerge from this crisis in a strong position to keep on protecting and caring for places so people and nature can thrive.

“It is deeply upsetting to face losing colleagues and we are committed to supporting all of those affected. Sadly, we have no other course of action left open. In making these changes now, I am confident we will be well-placed to face the challenges ahead, protecting the places that visitors love and ensuring our conservation work continues long into the future.”

The National Trust’s trade union Prospect said its priority would be minimising redundancies, maximising voluntary redundancy and getting as good a deal as possible for people losing their jobs.

“At the moment there are no plans for National Trust to close whole properties but they are shutting ‘unprofitable’ shops and cafes and the worry is that it’s only a matter of time,” said Mike Clancy, Prospect’s general secretary.

“Once jobs are lost and assets are closed it is very hard to recover them. Access to our cultural heritage should be an essential part of society’s recovery from the pandemic, and the government should be doing everything it can to protect it.”

Clancy said: “Three weeks after announcing a rescue package for arts, culture and heritage the government has finally given some detail on how organisations can apply for that funding but it may be too little too late for hundreds of workers at National Trust.

"Prospect will be pressing the government to ensure this funding actually gets to where it’s needed in a timely manner. If it’s handled properly it could prevent many of these redundancies but it will require a laser-like focus from those delivering the package – something that has been sadly lacking to date.”

YMT announced its consultation yesterday, but said it could not comment on the number of jobs at risk. It employed 205 people in 2018-19.

The trust says that 70% of its income comes tickets and other visitor-related revenue. It says it has lost £1.5m from the closure of York Art Gallery, York Castle Museum and the Yorkshire Museum for four months since March.

York Art Gallery and York Castle Museum are reopening on 1 August, but YMT’s third major venue, Yorkshire Museum, is still closed apart from its gardens.

Reyahn King, the chief executive of YMT, said: “I am devastated that the huge financial impact of Covid-19 on the trust has led us to this point. York Museums Trust looks after much of York’s important and cherished art, culture and heritage and as custodians it is our duty to ensure that we can continue to do this.

“We have exhausted every type of government aid currently available, negotiated rental agreements and tirelessly sought other ways of reducing our costs, but we are now in a position where we have to make some very difficult decisions. It is only by doing this that the charity will be able to survive and continue to share and care for York’s collections.

Protests took place at Tate Modern on Monday over plans for a restructure at Tate’s commercial subsidiary Tate Enterprises. The Public and Commercial Services Union says this is putting more than 200 jobs at risk, but Tate said it could not provide details because the consultation is ongoing.

Tate Enterprises directors Hamish Anderson and Carmel Allen said new regulations and social distancing guidelines would impact the organisation’s ability to operate.

“Tate has already allocated £5m from its reserves to support the business throughout lockdown, and this financial year, which has enabled us to top up salaries to 100% and retain staff during this difficult period,” the directors said in a statement.

“In order to reduce losses once the galleries reopen, and to resize in line with expected demand in the longer term, we have entered a period of collective consultation with our staff. We are working hard to retain as many of these staff as possible and have modelled as optimistically as we can with a view to ensuring the long-term future of the business.

“This consultation is across all areas of Tate Enterprises and affects all levels of staff. Our aim is to be as supportive to our colleagues as possible in the circumstances. As the period of collective consultation is ongoing, we cannot give any specifics as we don’t yet know the outcomes.

“The government funding, recently announced, is welcome news for the museum sector but we do not expect any of these funds to be allocated to Tate Enterprises, particularly in light of support already received.”

Tate Enterprises’ collective consultation ends on 6 August. PCS is currently balloting its Tate members on strike action, concluding on 3 August.

The House of Illustration said it had decided not to reopen its former site in London as it planned a move to a new location in the city, due to open in autumn 2022.

A spokesperson said: “We will not be venue-based for more than two years while we fundraise and develop the site. This is a major change and therefore we have regrettably had to make four posts redundant (in front of house and communications support) and we are currently unable to offer work to 13 casual staff who worked in front of house and on occasional public facing events.

"We are also unable to support a volunteer programme until we are further along with our plans for the new site.”

The organisation plans to reopen as the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration, with exhibition galleries, an education centre, event spaces, and retail and catering facilities.

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