More than 2,500 people have signed an open letter expressing concern about “brutal” plans to make up to 400 people redundant at the Southbank Centre.
Last month, the London venue launched a consultation to make two-thirds of its 577-strong workforce redundant. Job losses are expected to hit all areas of the organisation, which warns it could face a £5.1m deficit for the 2020–21 financial year, and is at risk of staying closed until at least April 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Now, an open letter, signed by current and former employees alongside others, claims lower paid employees, younger workers and BAME staff will be disproportionately hit by the planned cuts. In response, the centre said its redundancy programme will be subject to an equality impact assessment.
The open letter states: “Overnight, our audiences, our workforce and our sector will lose the arts centre built in the spirit of optimism in the years after the destruction of the Second World War. This loss will have a lasting impact on the arts and education in this country.
“We believe we can and should do better. We believe that the most precarious workers should not be penalised for historic financial negligence and mismanagement, and we demand that the Southbank Centre adheres to its anti-racism statement by actively protecting the diversity of its workforce.”
The letter questions why the entire venue, except the Hayward Gallery, is remaining closed and what it says will be a new “start-up” operating structure when it does finally reopen. According to the letter, the centre’s programme for arts events will be allocated just 10% of capacity across its venues with 90% reserved for rental.
However, the centre has said the letter misunderstands its plans and that, for the 2021–22 year only, the centre itself will present 10% of arts activity with the rest provided by residents, artistic partners and promoters.
“Almost 80% of everything in our venues will be artistic in the future, and actually this is how it was before we closed our doors," it said. “We are not changing this. We will continue to host some commercial activity such as graduations and conferences in the remaining 20% of available time — as we did before.”
A spokesperson for the centre said: “The programme we have embarked on is necessary to ensure the survival of the Southbank Centre. We will have lost £25m in income in the current financial year. Without action to manage this situation by reducing our costs and developing a new operating model, there will be no future for the centre.”
They added: “We want nothing more than to be able to open our doors again as soon as possible. However, as with all theatres and concert halls of size, social distancing makes this financially impossible and we do not think we will be able to fully reopen for the foreseeable future, depending on government guidance.”
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