Job losses threaten UK’s cultural heritage


Job losses threaten UK’s cultural heritage

The British Museum has announced the loss of more than 150 jobs in an attempt to address the £5m structural deficit facing the organisation.

  • 30 Apr 2002

The losses are part of drastic cost cutting measures being introduced to stem the financial mire resulting from successive years of government underfunding. Grant in aid for the museum has fallen by approximately 30% in real terms over the last 10 years.

"These cuts follow previous rounds of redundancies, dressed up as efficiency savings and restructuring, and cast doubt on the British Museum’s ability to continue to act as a national cultural resource," said Gareth Williams, chair of the staff trade union side.

The cuts will mean fewer new exhibitions will be mounted, more galleries will be closed and less support will be available for the thousands of schoolchildren who visit the museum, both physically and virtually, every week. Public enquiries will also be met more slowly while loans to regional museums are likely to be affected.

The redundancies will also place pressures on the conservation of the collection and place increased demands on academic staff, reducing the amount of research undertaken and further undermining the BM’s reputation as an international centre of scholarship. This is against a backdrop of government demands for museums to expand their activities, despite decreasing levels of resources.

Alan Leighton, Prospect’s heritage officer, said: "The situation in the museum has now reached breaking point but other institutions in the sector will soon find themselves in similar situations.

"Staff have already borne the brunt of the museum’s financial difficulties for several years and have seen their pay fall significantly behind civil service colleagues."

Unions that represent 1,100 staff at the museum – Prospect, the Public and Commercial Services union, the First Division Association and T&GWU – say that enough is enough.

"It is no longer possible for the museum to bow to pressure from Department for Culture, Media and Sport to deliver more and more with fewer resources," said Leighton.

Unions are calling on the government to address the fundamental problems of underfunding at the British Museum or accept that its own agenda, especially in areas such as access and education, cannot be delivered.

PCS officer Terry Adams said: "This government should recognise its responsibilities for the upkeep of one of this country’s great institutions.

"A fraction of the money thrown away on the Dome would keep it going into the next millennium. Instead, the future of an institution like the British Museum has come to depend on how many cups of coffee it sells. The government must intervene to secure the museum's future and full and proper access to its national treasures."

The unions will now be exploring with members the next course of action for resisting the cuts.


In 2000, the British Museum opened its new Great Court at a cost of approximately £100m, funded by the National Lottery, English Heritage and private and corporate sponsors. Like many of the great flagship Millennium projects, the government has been happy to take credit for what has been regarded as a major success story.

But the Great Court has added significantly to the museum’s running costs, with no corresponding increase to levels of grant-in-aid. The museum has managed to increase substantially the amount of income it generates for itself to £13.8m but not by enough to match the higher operating costs of £58.7m, up from £45.8m in 1999-2000.

The British Museum’s projected grant in aid for 2005-5 is the same as 2001-2 (£36m) despite increased expenses.