Staff have been informed that the consultation will last for six to nine months. The museum has already announced that it expects to make 103 retail and visitor experience staff redundant – around 10 per cent of the museum's overall workforce – with job losses in other departments set to follow.
In a statement released to the media, Tristram Hunt, the director of the museum, said: “The V&A started 2020 with huge hopes for the year ahead, following three of the most successful years in our history. These deeply difficult decisions would have been unimaginable then, but COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the V&A, our finances and the cultural sector more widely. In order to secure the V&A’s survival and prepare for the challenging years ahead, it is with great sadness that we are now forced to enter into consultation on proposed redundancies across the V&A.
“Every colleague plays a vital role in the success of the V&A – their creativity and expertise are unparalleled, and the loss of their institutional knowledge will be felt for years to come. We will do everything we can to consult on openly and transparently, to support our staff community during this exceptionally difficult time, and to rebuild the V&A once more.”
The museum said that the pandemic had resulted in a 85 per cent decrease in visitor numbers. It added that these figures were “likely to remain severely depressed for some time” and that “we anticipate that our financial recovery will take several years”. “[We]” are facing the very real prospect that we might never return to the level of visitation and associated income we were able to generate pre-Covid-19.”
The museum said that it had “taken every step” to reduce costs, including furloughing the majority of staff, freezing recruitment, reducing opening hours, cancelling staff bonuses, and cancelling or postponing sections of its programming. It has also received emergency money from the government.
“We continue to seek out all opportunities to raise funds independently and are extremely grateful for the continued support from our donors, members, corporate partners and sponsors, all of whom are essential to our recovery,” the museum said in a statement. “With the furlough scheme now coming to an end, we are sadly in a position where our commercial and
charitable revenue sources are still heavily reduced and other options to cover our costs are exhausted.”
The V&A said that while the redundancy process would initially focus on retail and visitor experience staff, it would also operate a voluntary redundancy programme across other areas of the museum.
The decision has already faced fierce criticism. The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said: “Management’s decision to immediately enter a consultation for compulsory redundancy for front-of-house workers, while running a voluntary-only redundancy scheme for all other departments, is a direct attack on the most diverse and some of the lowest-paid workers at the museum.
“It is a disgrace that the V&A has chosen not to use the government job support scheme when jobs across the museum, even with reduced visitor numbers, are sustainable.
“PCS will not accept the museum’s current approach and call for an immediate end to compulsory redundancies and to engage constructively with PCS, Prospect, and FDA unions.”