A restructure at Turner Contemporary has resulted in three redundancies and the loss of jobs for a number of casual staff understood to have been employed on zero hour contracts.
Staff received an email from Head of Visitor Experience and Engagement Toby Parkin at the beginning of November to inform them of changes that are understood to affect 40 workers.
The letter told staff a review of the Front of House functions including visitor experience, operations, retail, facilities and security had been carried out and a new Visitor Experience and Engagement team formed. The next phase was the removal of gallery assistant and navigator roles with affected employees invited to apply for 16 newly created engagement assistant jobs with contracted hours. A pool of between five and 10 casual workers will also be created.
Mr Parkin, who was formerly at the Science Museum, was employed by the gallery in 2019 and it is understood part of his remit was to streamline operations.
Documents seen by The Isle of Thanet News say the main focus has been to improve the experience of visitors but “the gallery also faces financial challenges given dwindling public investment in the arts and the Covid-19 pandemic. The document says the review has been undertaken to “safeguard jobs and the gallery’s future.”
The 16 new posts are for contracted hours of between 11 and 35 hours per week. The move means the loss of around 24 roles.
Turner Contemporary closed in March due to covid restrictions. It reopened in July but then closed in September for scheduled upgrade works.
The gallery is now closed until February 2021 while the improvement works take place, which include a redesigned retail area which will showcase products and artworks from the gallery’s creative community, new and additional toilet facilities, new café furniture, installation of lighter doors to each of the galleries and faster Wi-Fi. The CCTV system will be upgraded, and a new finishing kitchen will improve the capacity of the café and enable it to stay open during events.
Improving the environmental efficiency of the building is central to the building works, including the replacement of halogen lighting with LED lighting which will greatly reduce electricity consumption and costs.
The aim is for the gallery to increase its financial resilience and provide a better experience for the thousands of visitors that it welcomes each year. An 86 space, fee charged car park to bring income into the gallery is also planned for a separate works project.
The reopening next year will mark the gallery’s tenth anniversary.
Yesterday (December 11) it was announced a grant of £264,514 has been awarded to Kent County Council on behalf of Turner Contemporary from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund. The funding is earmarked for the upgrade.
One affected worker told The Isle of Thanet News: “We put ourselves out to help them for the 6 weeks after Lockdown when they were open. We had to be masked and sanitised and at that stage we were all scared about returning during the Pandemic.
“We had 40 gallery assistants. They emailed saying the role of gallery assistant no longer existed. This meant we didn’t have a job with them. They then told us they had created a new role of experience assistant. This role differed from gallery assistant because it encompassed a new job description involving outreach work and working with schoolchildren.
“The new role would involve new training and enhanced DBS. They said there would be 16 jobs as experience assistants. They held interviews at the end of last week in front of a panel and this involved presentations and questions. Friday the emails went out with the names of the successful applicants.
“As zero hour personnel we have not been told we are redundant but the remaining 24 have no job or redundancy pay.”
In accounts lodged for Turner Contemporary with the Charity Commission for the year ending March 31,2020, it shows total income for the year amounted to £3,687,902. (2019: £3,125,404). Expenditure amounted to £4,116,340 (2019: £2,877,691).
The deficit for the financial year is partly due to the receipt of restricted funds in the previous year that have been spent in this year.
The projected total loss of income from retail, venue hire and catering commission as a result of the gallery closure, limitations on visitors when open, the closure of the café, which was unable to reopen during summer 2020, and limitations on delivery of venue hire and associated catering, is recorded as £241,000.
The costs of reopening the gallery during the summer, in line with physical distancing measures, ticketing for visit number management and tracking processes, were around £15,000, with ongoing monthly costs of £1000-£2000 for PPE and associated safety measures.
The Trustees report accompanying the accounts adds: “The future impact of Covid-19 on budgets and financial forecasts is difficult to predict, but the team has taken a prudent approach to budgeting and has reconfigured the exhibitions programme for 2021-22 to deliver two exhibitions rather than three, as well as carefully managing other costs.”
The report says key risks relate to staffing and funding, adding: “Turner Contemporary needs highly skilled and flexible staff within the team. Recruitment in East Kent and within the museum and gallery sector is challenging. Our aim is to develop and retain staff.
“The other major risk relates to core public funding from Kent County Council (KCC) and Arts Council England (ACE). Year on year, core funding from KCC has reduced and we are working closely with colleagues at the County Council to diversify our funding portfolio.”
The annual bill for salaries (including pensions and other costs) came to £1,542,160 for 106 staff, including between £80,000 to £89,999 for one staff member.
Margate artist and writer Dan Thompson, who has worked on a number of Thanet projects including Roundabout theatre, Thanet Press, Margate Caves archaeology and Turner Contemporary schemes. said: “Turner Contemporary promised from the start that it would not just create jobs, but a pathway to lead local people into careers in the arts. Zero hours McJobs never sat well with that ambition, so it’s great to see better roles being created – but dropping trained, experienced staff doesn’t help people to develop careers. And getting rid of almost 30 staff in the current climate looks uncaring.”
A Turner Contemporary spokesperson said: “2020 has been an unprecedented year and, like many other organisations, global events are forcing us to work differently. Turner Contemporary has been evaluating the way it operates as an organisation to safeguard its long-term sustainability as a charity which creates transformation through arts and creativity.
“A review and restructure of its front of house and operation teams has been conducted whilst the gallery has been closed this autumn and a new Visitor Experience and Engagement department has been established.
“This review was driven by a desire to create permanent contracts for casual staff and to improve the quality of the visitor experience for local and wider audiences. Whilst the process has resulted in three redundancies and a reduction in casual contracts, 16 new permanent roles have been created.
“Arts Council England announced a capital grant to Kent County Council (KCC) for building improvements to the gallery which is in the county council’s ownership. KCC will receive the grant of £264,514. This funding is allocated to ensure the delivery of the capital scheme which is currently underway by KCC. This scheme will upgrade the gallery and ensure the quality of the visitor experience as one of Kent’s leading cultural attractions.”