Southbank Centre announces up to two thirds of staff could be made redundant

4 August 2020, 15:32

Up to two thirds of the workforce could be made redundant
Up to two thirds of the workforce could be made redundant. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

The Southbank Centre has come under fire after announcing that up to two thirds of its staff could be made redundant due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 1,500 people have now signed an open letter to the management team at the Southbank centre voicing their concern over the possible redundancies.

Within the letter, it states that people are “concerned about the current crisis … which is seeing a programme of brutal redundancies across the organisation”.

It comes after the Southbank Centre, which includes the Hayward Gallery, announced plans to make up to two thirds of staff redundant, which could lead to up to 400 job losses.

They also plan to rent out 90 per cent in an effort to claw back some of the funds lost due to the centre's forced closure.

The latest update on the centre states that it may need to remain closed until April 2021 due to the effects of coronavirus on the business.

More than 150 people protested on Saturday
More than 150 people protested on Saturday. Picture: PA

The open letter, entitled #SouthbankSOS, states that redundancies “will disproportionately affect the lowest-paid employees", explaining that reducing staff numbers by 63-68 per cent only equates to a reduction in payroll of 30-35 percent.

It also highlights that "the at-risk group includes a high proportion of young people, people from Bame (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds and people with disabilities for whom it is more difficult to secure employment opportunities in the arts and so who will suffer the most from redundancy.”

The letter continues: “Staff have been told that the centre’s programme of contemporary art exhibitions, classical and contemporary music and literature events will be allocated just 10 per cent of capacity across its venues with 90 per cent reserved for rental."

The Southbank centre has been hit hard by coronavirus
The Southbank centre has been hit hard by coronavirus. Picture: Getty

At the weekend, Vanessa Redgrave said plans to cut 365 jobs at the Southbank Centre in London are "absolute madness" as she joined a protest against the proposals.

Redgrave joined more than 150 protesters outside the Southbank on Saturday in a bid to prevent the cuts.

Speaking to Sky News, the 83-year-old actress said: "There must be no redundancies from the front of house staff.

"There must be no more redundancies inside, upstairs, downstairs, left bank, (or) right bank.

"It is absolute madness, artistically speaking, and absolute madness economically speaking."

The PCS said it had about 200 members at the Southbank Centre, as does the union Unite.

Both are working together to prevent the cuts from going ahead.

The Southbank centre is a key London attraction
The Southbank centre is a key London attraction. Picture: PA

The Southbank Centre's senior management have already pledged to take pay cuts during the pandemic, however signatories of the letter are questioning the salary of the organisation's chief executive officer, Elaine Bedell, which increased in 2018-19 from £194,377 to £240,750.

“Despite her 20% pay cut, [Bedell] is still earning more than she did in 2018.

This salary remains significantly higher than that of the Tate director (Maria Balshaw earned £185,625 in financial year 2018-19)… We question whether it is appropriate to maintain such a salary for the CEO of a closed arts centre.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Southbank Centre said: "A number of our colleagues protested this weekend about the proposed redundancy action that the Southbank Centre has sadly had to take as a result of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to a catastrophic loss of 60 per cent of our income.

"We sympathise with the uncertainty and anxiety that this is causing and respect our staff's right to express their opinions in this way. We've also been made aware of an online petition and are concerned by the extent of the inaccuracies contained within it.

"We will continue to work with our staff to ensure that we remain transparent, open and honest and share all information with them as we try to navigate our way through this unprecedented crisis."  

In the most recent COVID-19 statement on its website, Southbank chief executive Elaine Bedell said: “The impact of the virus means that we have now lost a catastrophic 60 percent of our income, which comes from ticket sales, corporate events, the restaurants, bars and shops across our site.

“We are grateful to Arts Council England for our annual grant, which represents 37 percent of our income; however, most of this is used to look after our 11-acre National Heritage estate and buildings, which we manage and maintain on behalf of the government.

“One of the biggest barriers to reopening our venues is the continuation of social distancing. Even a reduced one-metre rule means that we would only be able to sell around 30-40 percent of tickets.

"To reopen under these terms would only make our financial situation worse.”