Headcount tumbles at UK’s big museums
Government cuts take their toll as more than 120 posts are lost without fanfare in just two years
By Javier Pes and Ermanno Rivetti. Museums, Issue 243, February 2013
Published online: 06 February 2013
The chair of Arts Council England, Liz Forgan, last month warned the UK government not to cut funding for museums and the arts any further. She was speaking at an event at the British Museum that marked her early departure from the arts funding body.
Forgan was asked to step down by the then culture secretary Jeremy Hunt (now the health secretary), and hers has not been the only leaving do held at the British Museum of late. The impact of the fall—on average 15%—in the government’s grants to national museums, announced in 2010, has led to a number of staff leaving the British Museum and other national museums.
At the British Museum, 32 posts have gone since 2010, including two curatorial roles, nine positions from the now closed Paul Hamlyn library and eight posts from the museum’s capital projects and estates department. The full extent of the number of posts axed in five leading museums, the majority of which have been negotiated on a voluntary basis, is revealed in the institutions’ latest annual reports.
At the National Gallery, 20 members of staff accepted voluntary redundancy packages in 2011/12; four were senior post-holders with salaries of £50,000 to £100,000. At the Tate, which is a far larger organisation than the National Gallery, 43 full- and part-time posts, two of them senior, have gone since 2010. Six posts were lost at the National Maritime Museum and 21 went at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The total number of posts lost at the five museums between 2010 and 2012 was 122. Eighty-five people left with voluntary redundancy packages. Although the reduction in staff will result in long-term savings, museums had to find more than £2m to fund the exit packages.
Mark Taylor, the director of the Museums Association, is not surprised that posts have gone as the museums quietly restructure to cope with the cuts. “I think it’s inevitable, as museums are so labour intensive,” he says. But he was unaware of the number of posts affected. “Redundancies don’t happen with any great fanfare; you hear about them in whispers,” he says.
Andy Bodle, who is the head of human resources at the National Maritime Museum and also the co-chair of the human resources forum of the National Museum Directors’ Council, says that the redundancies are a direct consequence of government cuts. “Museums are a knowledge-based industry, so the greatest cuts will be in staffing when you have to look for savings in the long term. Museums do not really have much choice. We have to cut our cloth to be sustainable.”
Taylor thinks that museums can “only go so far” down the voluntary redundancy route, as museums depend on specialists. “Because of employment law, you cannot replace the post,” he says, making the process less strategic and more random. Bodle agrees that, while museums have traditionally sought volunteers for redundancy, “you have to be fairly selective with specialists who have built up their knowledge over the long term”. The same applies to staff involved in earning income for the institution.
“You have to watch morale,” Bodle warns. “You must look after the people who stay, who probably have to work harder.” If pressure on budgets mounts, museums might have more volunteers for redundancy, he says, and the size of exit packages will come under scrutiny. As we went to press, the National Museum Wales announced that 35 posts will go to help find £2.5m in savings; nine senior roles are at risk.
Update: the British Museum has axed the post of deputy director, which became vacant when Andrew Burnett retired last month.
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