On 4 March the Science and Technology Select Committee published its report into the funding of Kew. The report criticises the Government’s short-term and volatile approach to funding, describing it as a ‘recipe for failure’.
The total of redundancies from restructuring to-date stands at 49 of which 8 are compulsory. Further restructuring continues in some smaller Departments which may increase the final figure, but some applications for internal vacancies may help reduce it. All these job losses are on top of the 59 staff already lost through three Voluntary Exit exercises since March 2013, and a large number of previously vacant posts that have been “sacrificed”.
On 20 February, Kew launched its long-awaited Science Strategy, yet almost half of the headcount losses at Kew to date are from the Science Directorate, who accounted for approximately a third of the total workforce prior to the start of the cost-saving restructuring. In addition, 16 permanent staff are now on 3-year, time-limited contracts and are expected to make significant efforts to secure external funding to cover their post costs. A further 6 Science staff are in project-funded roles and thus also remain vulnerable to the whim of future funding.
From the start of the job losses, over 700 years of experience will have been lost from Kew’s Science teams alone.
The UK Government’s surprise restoration of operational funding to 2013 levels during 2014-15 and forecast for 2015-16 has clearly not halted the damaging staff cuts. It does, however, reduce the risk of further job losses in 2015-16.
Kew is currently forecasting finishing 2014-15 with the £0.6M deficit it started the year with, and the forecast for Defra capital funding for 2015-16 remains very bleak. This will mean that the 2015-16 operational budget will be under pressure for essential repairs and replacements and possibly put further jobs at risk after April 2015.
Public and political concern at the damaging effects of the cuts at Kew continues to rise with the news of the threat to Kew’s scientific work. John McDonnell MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP raised a further Early Day Motion, EDM 591, highlighting the impacts of the impending loss of science staff.
Zac Goldsmith MP secured a Westminster Hall debate on Tuesday 16 December, the day before the Science and Technology Select Committee Evidence Session.
On 28 November, Kew staff learned that 51 people in the ‘Science Directorate’ had not secured posts in the new, smaller, structure. Whilst 42 posts currently remain unfilled, some of these are effectively fixed-term appointments whose long-term tenure is dependent on the post-holder securing external funding. Many staff are preferring to opt for Voluntary Redundancy and some are even resigning. In the ‘Public Programmes Directorate’, seven surplus staff opted for Voluntary Redundancy, most of them reluctantly, and one now faces Compulsory Redundancy. These losses are in addition to over 60 staff who have already left under Voluntary Exit Scheme terms since 2012. Most of the budgeted-for but previously vacant posts have also been cut, adding to the total number of posts lost.
On 11 November the Commons Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology announced a one-off evidence session addressing announcements made by The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew regarding its handling of a £5m “budget gap”.
An “evidence session” is not a full enquiry, nor does it usually produce a report, but it is used to inform and advise Parliament. The committee state that they are “happy to receive correspondence by email firstname.lastname@example.org“.
On 22 October, Kew supporters held a successful public meeting in Kew. Chaired by PCS organiser, Cathy Cross, speakers included Kew’s constituency MP Zac Goldsmith and the MP for Hayes & Harlington; John McDonnell, former Kew student; James Wong, and, from the floor, contributions from Baroness Jenny Tonge and many others. See more on the PCS website.
Staff at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew welcomed news of the temporary reprieve in funding cuts, after a widespread campaign, including the petition, has won the support of more than 100,000 people.
On 3 September, Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg told the State of Nature Conference that he has secured £1.5m of government funding for Kew Gardens and its site in West Sussex until April 2015. Both sites deliver globally important science and conservation.
Trade unions Prospect, GMB and PCS, who spearheaded the campaign, welcomed the news but agreed with Kew’s director, Richard Deverell, that although this funding will partially reduce the deficit it will not resolve the original £5m gap in its budget for 2014/15 nor protect it from already planned further cuts. The restored funding will help prevent Kew ending the pre-election year in the red, but, as Kew faces at least a further £0.9M cut next year, staff are still facing job losses.
Prospect’s parliamentary officer Parmjit Dhanda said: “We are pleased at this temporary reprieve which shows the importance of the widely backed campaign. Of course, increased funding and longer-term security beyond the election would have been even better But Nick Clegg’s statement is a bit like bedding plants – a temporary show.”
The unions pointed out that Kew has had to use up most of its reserves to survive four preceding years of government cuts. There is no longer an ability to use reserves to mask the effects of the cuts.
Unions believe Kew’s funding should be restored to 2009-10 levels in line with the recommendation from the last independent review of Kew.
Kew has already had to lay off more than 50 staff who have left on a voluntary basis and massive cuts in the number of science staff were announced on 4 September.
Many decades of skill and experience have been lost and more are expected to go over the coming months as over 40 of Kew’s science staff face the axe and about 30 will lose their job security and be given three years in which to secure their own funding or face redundancy later.
Dhanda said: “Kew needs long-term certainty about its funding to be able to plan and manage its limited resources efficiently and effectively. Kew unions are calling for an independent review to examine this and move to a longer funding cycle that is longer than three months.”
The unions delivered a petition with more than 100,000 signatures to Downing Street in June. It called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to “urgently reverse existing, proposed and further cuts to Kew’s annual operating grant in aid”.
In 1983, 90 per cent of Kew’s operational funding came from the UK government as grant in aid. This had dropped to below 40 per cent in 2014. Operational funding was reduced by £0.9m in 2009-10, £1m in 2010-11, and by an extra £0.5m year-on-year thereafter. The anticipated £0.5M 2014 cut was expanded to £1.5M following the Chancellor’s 2013 autumn budget cuts and Defra’s subsequent expenses following the February 2014 floods. Defra are still predicting a £0.9M cut in 2015-16 with a risk of a further 5% on top of that.
Government sources point to the relative generosity of funding to Kew but fail to differentiate between operating revenue funding that keeps the institution running and money specifically restricted for major capital projects such as the restoration of the iconic Temperate House.
The Deputy PM’s welcome announcement helps Kew survive the current year, but underlying issues of short-term volatility and long-term uncertainty of government funding leave Kew little option than to further cut costs and focus more and more on commercial and other income-generation activity.
Unions remain critical that this shift is not in the public interest. Kew will not even pay the Living Wage to its shop staff and argue that increased charges will drive visitors away from its two sites. They call for an independent review of Kew to clarify government’s expectations of Kew’s role and to what extent it is prepared to fund the world-renowned organisation.
PCS General Secretary, Mark Serwotka, said:
“We have never believed there was any justification for such massive cuts at Kew so this recognition from the government that Kew needs increased funding is welcome, but £1.5m is not enough to stop job cuts.
We will continue to argue for the necessary Government funding to keep this hugely important centre of scientific and environmental excellence serving the public interest and for jobs to be protected”