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Workers At London's Southbank Centre Share Protest Letter
Christian Eede , August 4th, 2020 22:47

Staff have spoken out against planned redundancies as well as "institutional racism," with the organisation subsequently sharing its own response to complaints

UPDATE (August 4, 22:47pm BST): London's Southbank Centre has published a statement responding to an open letter which was shared earlier today by staff, criticising planned redundancies and alleging structural issues within the organisation.

"We, like all performing arts venues, are struggling with closure," Southbank Centre's response reads. "Whilst we are acutely aware of the distress felt by staff affected here – and across the entire cultural sector where so many jobs are being lost – we feel it's important that we correct some inaccurate and misleading information about Southbank Centre contained within this petition."

The organisation's response goes on to defends its restructuring and financial remodelling plans, saying: "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."

The statement further makes a commitment to ensuring that the organisation's redundancy programme is subject to an equality impact assessment, in order that redundancies do not disproportionately affect Black and minority ethnic members of staff. "We will rebuild our organisation in the future with diversity and equality absolutely central to our recovery," the statement adds.

You can read the Southbank Centre's full response, which breaks down a number of the original open letter's complaints, here.

August 4, 15.01pm BST: Staff at London's Southbank Centre have penned an open letter protesting planned redundancies within the institution.

The arts and culture organisation revealed last month that up to 400 jobs may have to be lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a situation that staff have described in the letter as "brutal," adding that plans to restructure and financially remodel the running of the centre "will result in irrevocable damage to [its] future."

In addition to the planned redundancies, it's thought that the Southbank Centre will reduce cultural use of its complex to just 10% of the facilities, while 90% will be loaned out to other organisations for various uses.

An open letter shared by staff claims that the planned redundancies, which began this week, "will disproportionately affect the lowest-paid employees (reducing staff numbers by 63-68% only equates to a reduction in payroll of 30-35%)." The letter adds that the at-risk group includes "a high proportion of young people, people from BAME backgrounds and people with disabilities for whom it is more difficult to secure employment opportunities in the arts and so who will suffer the most from redundancy."

Noting further accusations of institutional racism, the letter continues: "The formation of a network of BAME staff in 2019 was met by resistance by senior management, with attempts to disband it. Yet the network was formally called upon for consultation in June this year after Southbank Centre were wrong-footed by their response to Black Lives Matter protests.

"Since then, their efforts to address structural racism and respond to the crisis of under-representation have been met by disturbing instances of racism, including one in which a board member stated that she did not believe in 'victimhood' and asked them if they were 'proud to be people of colour' and 'proud to work at Southbank Centre'. Apologies from the Chief Executive Officer have been sought but not received."

The letter also makes criticism of the Southbank Centre's decision to remain closed until at least April 2021, with the exception of the Hayward Gallery, which reopened earlier this week.

While acknowledging that it is impossible to host music events across the complex while social distancing measures are required, staff claim that "no creative solutions have been proposed to fill that vacuum," adding that if the "Royal Festival Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall remain closed, Londoners lose a vital free space that belongs to them, as well as access to the National Poetry Library."

You can read the full letter here.