March 2015

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’.

February 2015

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.

December 2014

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.

November 2014

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“.

October 2014

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.

September 2014

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”

16 thoughts on “News”

  1. What a shambolic and shabby way for government to treat Kew, science and research. How ignorant and naive can they be if they think anything can function effectively in such constant uncertainly? They came in promising to be the greenest government ever. They clearly did not even understand what they were talking about and have actually been the WORST ever by far. The damage that they have done to environment, biodiversity, science, research etc in less than 5 years is immense. They have ministers who do not accept global warming, a Chancellor who sees environment as a ‘luxury we cannot at present afford’ and consistently as a body (both government and opposition) demonstrate a lack of understanding of science and the fact that this Country’s prosperity and influence has been achieved on the back of its scientific and engineering expertise and achievements – not on banks and economics! I can count on my fingers the politicians who have shown any scientific and environmental responsibility, let alone understanding and credibility. They do not even take advice from those appointed to advise them on such matters let alone the respected scientific community!

    Alan Outen

  2. I used to work at Kew in the 1980’s when it was under 90% government funding and since, as Curator of Chelsea Physic Garden, was forced to support its work via weddings…

    An idea is to look to the (relatively well -protected) overseas aid budget to share the responsibility for Kew – as so much of Kew’s work is actually supporting the biodiversity and development of countries overseas.

  3. I was a Head of Department at the Central Veterinary Laboratory. Weybridge (MAFF) 1980 to 1991. At the start of that period the CVL and Kew were still quite well funded by the Treasury. Then CVL management were told that we had to raise 20% of costs from commercial sources. We achieved this by obtaining commercial research projects. In theory this worked as the money came in but in practice it was a disaster because staff took more time on the commercial contracts than the clients were paying for. The government funded work got less time than it should have done. Time recording schemes were introduced to try to prevent this but were ineffective.
    Kew should refuse to have anything to do with raising money from commercial sources. The government hasto decide if they want to keep Kew and pay for it or sell it off as a theme park.

  4. corrected:
    It was scientific research and expertise that led in the C19 to Britain’s becoming wealthy and competent in all disciplines from warfare to industry and manufacture. The abandonment of such principles is a stage in the reintroduction of feudal priorities in which only the richest and their peers will prosper .Their schools teach them from an early age to despise those poorer than themselves as sub-humans and robotical exemplars of an inferior caste. Sniping at such important research facilities as Kew is the typical philistine response of the uninformed materialist, confronted by values he does not share or understand. The price of everything and the value of nothing!

  5. It is simply unbelievable that this is happening, Kew is respected all over the world and is one of the great institutions that really puts the word “Great” in Great Britain.
    Fungi in particular will be worse off, for as a county fungus recorder I am in a position to discover new species for the country, but I rely deeply upon Kew for guidance and confirmation, and as a direct result of these cuts, overworked and underfunded staff at Kew no longer have time to look at material supplied by amateur mycologists – this in turn means I have to keep the dried specimen in a cupboard somewhere just gathering dust until it is no longer identifiable or else I simply throw it away with nobody ever knowing if it was a new species for the UK.
    Shame on this government.

  6. Surely when so many people claim to be so environmentally friendly etc. there are some people with philanthropic generosity who could make a substantial, and preferably sustaining, grant to Kew. The research and work of Kew is of vital importance to our global environment. Plant life is vital in our environmental chain.

  7. How sad it is, to know that along with other public institutions the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew is to become debased. Cuts, cuts and more cuts, is the mantra of this Government, irrespective of the quality and purpose of each institution or public good that it touches.

    It is a delusion as pervasive as any drug driven orgy, or alcoholic haze. Never mind that livable wage levels are abandoned, important areas of research neglected or abandoned, the government can only see joy in cuts.’

    Let the future go hang,’ they shout. Let those who are made redundant go into the job queue, and let their commercial colleagues involve themselves in making money for Kew. Souvenirs, trinkets, let out the glass houses for weddings and pop concerts? Help the GM companies in their dubious rackets more likely.
    What price seeds? No freedom of research there, but only what the government wants. Coercion follows weakening, and don’t kid yourself that private enterprise is more efficient than public service. human beings work in both.

    Don’t sacrifice Kew on this altar, abandon the god of cuts, and let research be free of financial bondage.

  8. How will the UK compete in the fields of science and technology when governments keep cutting the investment.

    The research carried out at Kew and other such establishment is helping to keep Britain wealthy and help development in less fortunate countries.

    In short there is no long term benefits for anyone.

  9. I sympathise with many of the comments above but what needs to be recognised is that the prevailing political ideology – particularly in the UK and the US – is one of individualism of the grossest kind.
    On US web sites, people are being invited to view pictures of the late Joan Rivers’ $36 million apartment. Does this not tell us all we need to know about the grossly growing level of inequalities that are evident in our societies?
    Societies in which what you own – rather than what you know – are considered to be far more important than anything else.
    It seems to me that Kew needs to both lobby Labour for guarantees of funding if they win the general election in 2015 and additional revenue flows based on Kew’s global expertise must be sought. This may mean having to work with large scale seed stock companies and others of a similar nature.
    Regrettably, in this current ideological situation, it is necessary to convert expertise into cash.
    One other suggestion I would make is to target every MP who has a marginal seat for support and to set up local support groups in their constitutencies to force them to support Kew.
    Best wishes.

  10. The Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew is the main centre of flora research of the Commonwealth countries, publishing series of floras for many countries, like Flora of Tropical East Africa, Flora Zambesiaca and others. The experienced staff cannot be replaced if once lost. All botanists of the world consider Kew Gardens as a centre of natural conservation and a indispensable help for the botanists in the developing countries, what I experienced during my teaching career and as a herbarium founder in Tanzania. In addition it plays an important role spreading knowledge among students and other interested people through the wonderful collections of outdoor and greenhouse plants collected from all corners of the globe. Therefore further cuts on its budget should mean a definite harm to science and to the prestige of Great Britain.

  11. I am one of no doubt millions around the world who have benefited and are still benefiting from the work that Kew has done and continues to do. There are many in Sri Lanka who hope that Kew weathers the present problems very well. (Incidentally, the word ‘wesakmal’ in my email address is Sinhala for the beautiful epiphytic orchid, Dendrobium McCarthiae)

  12. Nothing is more important to our future than respecting, conserving, nurturing, researching and valuing our environment. Kew leads the world in flora research and conservation. Our politicians continue to see no further than the end of their noses. Nothing can be contemplated that does not involve immediate profit side by side with the inevitable cuts. Unfortunately a huge percentage of the population neither know or care about medium or long term effects of lack of funding for valuable and essential research giving carte Blanche to destructive governments. The overwhelming emphasis on materialism and the ever increasing rich/poor divide is as big a threat to the world’s future as climate change.

  13. When are the Government (regardsless of the party) going to stop destroying all the good things about this country? Kew Gardens is a World renowned institution whose work may be of vital importance to our survival in the future. Not least the storing of all types of seeds from around the world ensuring that they do not disappear and are available should we ever need them. They are involved in conservation and prompt the study of plants.

  14. This government have learnt nothing from the Owen Patterson debacle – by the way, what has become of this toe-rag – is he busy planting a new ancient woodland with sycamore trees or getting ready to join Cameron to shoot foxes and deer and pigeon this Xmas ?

    Neil Mahler.

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Globally important conservation and science are under threat at RBG Kew due to government cuts

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