Plans to cut back on museum staff in Portsmouth could badly hit tourism in the famous naval city Unite, the country’s largest union, has warned.
Portsmouth city council is consulting its staff over changes, which, Unite says could see attractions such as Portsmouth's city museum, Charles Dickens’ birthplace and the Natural History Museum at risk of closure from May.
The Conservative-led administration plans to replace seasonal staff with unpaid volunteers. Existing staff have expressed grave concerns that opening hours will inevitably be slashed under such arrangements.
There has already been a drastic reduction in museum staff in recent years, with dozens of redundancies and closed posts. Over the past five years the museum services budget has been slashed by £150,000 and further cuts of around £100,000 are expected up to 2017, which could bring the service to the brink of closure.
Most of the museums are already shut on Mondays and it appears that Charles Dickens’ birthplace will be the first to go one step further and open only at weekends. In addition the temporary exhibition programme at the city museum could end in October under these plans.
The staff consultation is due to end on 27 February 2015.
Unite regional officer Ian Woodland said: "We could experience a sea change for the city’s museums from being staffed by paid, experienced professionals to a service dependant on volunteers.
“We believe that this change in delivery, coupled with the ending of temporary exhibitions, will see a decline in what the museums can offer in Portsmouth to residents and tourists alike.
“At a time when the city council can offer to bail out the Theatre Royal project to the tune of £150,000 our members feel justifiably let down.
"With all the cuts so far making it hard for staff to run the current museum service, the prospect of closed museums will become a regular – and dismal - feature of Portsmouth life.
"It feels like we have a service that is being managed into decline. If nothing is done then it will be completely wound down until there isn't anything left."
Unite believes, in future, it is likely volunteers alone would run all the Portsmouth sites include the D-Day museum, Southsea Castle and Eastney Beam Engine museum.
Volunteers have been used increasingly in recent years in museums across the country, but with the possibility of hundreds needed to staff the sites in Portsmouth the risk is of limited openings and/or complete closure.
For further information please contact Unite regional officer Ian Woodland on 07707 704480 and/or the Unite press office on 020 3371 2065.
Notes to editors:
Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union with over 1.4 million members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.