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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Cultural cuts

by New Worker correspondent

THE National Trust has announced that it could be making 1,200 of its 10,000 staff redundant to make £100 million savings after announced it was facing a £200 million loss. The organisation is a charity that looks after the nation’s country houses for the benefit of gentry and aristocrats who cannot afford to live in the whole house. It often gives them the top flat whilst it charges its 5.6 million members and visitors to explore the grounds and wander round the grand rooms gazing at the family portraits and looking at the cooper pans in the kitchen before departing for tea and cake in its cafes. Afterwards they are shepherded out through ye olde gift shoppe where they are further relieved of their money.

This year of course nobody has been doing that and many members have not made their customary renewals. Whilst some properties have reopened at a limited level using pre-booked slots, others such as Sudbury Hall in Derbyshire will not reopen until next year at the earliest.

The Trust said: “We do not have property-specific numbers. As we’re proposing to reduce the number of roles overall, in some areas we’re creating redundancy pools for roles which staff will be able to apply for.” It also warned ominously that: “This means the number of people affected is much higher than the resulting job losses.”

On Tuesday, more details were forthcoming about the Trust’s properties in Wales, where it was expected 80 jobs would be lost.

Welsh membership grew to over 200,000 last year, but with the cafes and properties closed for months the impact has been serious. “We have to make very difficult decisions, to ensure the long-term security of the organisation,” the Trust said.

Whilst some properties have reopened inside in England and Northern Ireland, as part of a phased reopening, only gardens and parks have opened so far in Wales. The Welsh Government has announced a £53 million fund for arts and culture, but how much goes to the Trust is unclear.

North of the Border the National Trust for Scotland is planning similar cuts, a total of 429 permanent members of trust staff from the 751-strong workforce face losing their jobs.

It is forecast to lose £28 million this year, and to fall again in 2021 even if current restrictions are relaxed. To make matters worse, it has lost £46 million worth of investments due to stock market conditions.

Its Chief Executive Simon Skinner said: “Post-lockdown, we plan to scale back our current offering to match the anticipated restrictions that will remain. We propose to initially focus on the safe, phased re-opening of a core of 27 built heritage properties around Scotland, primarily those best able to accommodate social distancing.

“The remainder will be placed on a care and maintenance basis, with the aim of opening a further 18 sometime next year, and the rest once there is a general upturn in the economy and the Trust’s fortunes. Our countryside properties will open to welcome people when restrictions are lifted.”

Prospect, the union which represents many of the curators, conservators and other heritage workers, has demanded that money from the government’s Cultural Renewal Fund be fast-tracked to the Trust to minimise redundancies.

General Secretary Mike Clancy said: “This is a big programme of layoffs and everyone working at National Trust will be worried about their futures. Prospect’s first priorities will be minimising the total number of redundancies, maximising voluntary redundancy and getting as good a deal as possible for everyone who loses their job. We are committed to ensuring our members are treated fairly in this process.

“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. 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.”

He also deplored the fact that the government has been slow in providing details of its rescue fund for arts, culture and heritage, saying: “It may be too little too late for hundreds of workers at National Trust. 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.