Crowds gather to protest ‘disastrous’ Southbank Centre and National Theatre job cuts

3 August 2020, 13:14 | Updated: 3 August 2020, 16:46

Britons Prepare For Further Easing Of Coronavirus Lockdown, Now In Week Ten
Britons Prepare For Further Easing Of Coronavirus Lockdown, Now In Week Ten. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

Employees at risk of redundancy across Southbank Centre’s venues, and the neighbouring National Theatre, have held demonstrations calling out the cuts.

Southbank Centre and National Theatre workers have joined forces to protest recently-announced job cuts at the organisations.

Following the announcement that nearly 400 staff are at risk of redundancy at the Southbank Centre – and the same number of casual employees at the neighbouring National Theatre – people gathered to speak out against the proposed cuts on Saturday (1 August).

Among the protestors was actor Vanessa Redgrave, who described the redundancies as “a disaster” artistically and economically, speaking to Sky News.

Referencing ‘Clap for our Carers’, and the work and support that’s been shown for the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic, Redgrave says: “I’m suggesting we work and shout for the National Theatre and the rest of the Southbank arts jobs because there shouldn’t be any redundancies.”

Read more: Southbank Centre warns 400 jobs are at risk amid crisis >

Speaking about the Southbank cuts when they were announced initially, a spokesperson for the organisation said, “It is with great sadness that the Southbank Centre announced that up to 400 roles have been put at risk of redundancy as part of a comprehensive management action plan, designed to stem the financial losses being incurred as a result of COVID-19, and to help safeguard the future of the UK’s largest arts centre.”

Since the announcement of the proposed redundancies, an open letter under #SouthbankSOS has been penned by Southbank employees to highlight the “brutal” redundancies, their impact on diversity, and the threat to the future of the organisation.

Published on Friday 31 July, the letter says: “Overnight, our audiences, our workforce and our sector will lose the arts centre built in the spirit of optimism in the years after the destruction of the Second World War. This loss will have a lasting impact on the arts and education in this country.

“We believe we can and should do better. We believe that the most precarious workers should not be penalised for historic financial negligence and mismanagement, and we demand that the Southbank Centre adheres to its anti-racism statement by actively protecting the diversity of its workforce.”

The letter highlights the impact of the proposal on more vulnerable workers, stressing that the redundancies will disproportionately affect the lowest-paid employees, young people, people from BAME backgrounds and people with disabilities.

It also draws attention to pay at executive levels in the organisation, as well as the centre’s decision to keep most of its venues closed.

Coronavirus outbreak in the UK
Coronavirus outbreak in the UK. Picture: Getty

In the most recent COVID-19 statement on its website, Southbank chief exec, Elaine Bedell, has said:

“The impact of the virus means that we have now lost a catastrophic 60 percent of our income, which comes from ticket sales, corporate events, the restaurants, bars and shops across our site.

“We are grateful to Arts Council England for our annual grant, which represents 37 percent of our income; however, most of this is used to look after our 11-acre National Heritage estate and buildings, which we manage and maintain on behalf of the government.

“One of the biggest barriers to reopening our venues is the continuation of social distancing. Even a reduced one-metre rule means that we would only be able to sell around 30-40 percent of tickets. To reopen under these terms would only make our financial situation worse.”