16th Nov, 2018

Coventry council taxpayers to bail out culture trust amid job losses as 2021 looms

Les Reid 26th Feb, 2018 Updated: 26th Feb, 2018

CULTURE Coventry Trust is to be bailed out with a £370,000 ‘one-off’ grant from city taxpayers amid more job losses, we understand.

As the Coventry Observer revealed last month, 17 posts – mainly in senior management – are under threat in the latest restructure to the trust which runs the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry Transport Museum and Lunt Roman Fort.

The financial concerns are now to be addressed with the one-off grant from Coventry City Council. It is in addition to its outstanding £600,000 council taxpayer loan.

The ongoing issues not only raise concerns about the robustness of the city’s cultural ‘crown jewels’ in the run up to City of Culture 2021.

They also threaten the city’s tourist information centre offer – which is already reduced to a hot-desk in the Herbert, after the former centre at the cathedral closed.

Introducing standard admission charges at the transport museum and Herbert is not ruled out.

The council is placing its trust in a new interim Trust manager Paul Breed to steer it towards the flagship year.

Culture Coventry Trust, which includes councillors on its board, should not be confused with the separate organisation Coventry City of Culture Trust, responsible for organising the entire 2021 project.

The cuts follow other restructures involving scores of job losses in recent years at Culture Coventry Trust.

As we reported last month, there are also ongoing financial pressures and repairs needed at the listed Old Grammar School building opposite the transport museum. It has already seen a multi-million pound refurbishment since being acquired by the Trust.

About 17 staff from its workforce of 100 were told last month that they are at risk.

Some staff claim the Trust has been badly managed financially and has been under-resourced for years.

The trust has for years also faced pressure from council funding cuts amid government cuts to local authorities.

It has been examining ways of generating more revenue through more pay-for-entry displays and events, and other means.

The council told us last month: “A comprehensive review into Culture Coventry Trust has been carried out. This has focused on all aspects of the business – including the services it delivers, gaps in any provision, the structure of its staffing and improvements that can be made.

“The result of this has led to a range of proposals that are currently being consulted on with staff, trade unions and other partners. The proposals would see a restructure that seeks to ensure there is more capacity and resilience at the service end of our business.”

Some people would be “job matched” from their redundant posts to new roles, it added.

Roger Bailey, a Coventry blue badge tour guide and opposition city councillor told us: “My first concern is for the staff, some of whom may be affected.

“This is such an important part of our heritage and culture so we must get it sorted out properly.

“If anyone was to introduce admission fees it would be a backward step and would not help what we’re aiming for in 2021.

“We need to do all we can to attract people and we haven’t done enough, in my opinion. I am also concerned about the further impact on the Visitor Information Centre which ought to be a vital asset in any place. It is already not a proper centre and we are missing out on income from the things they used to be able to sell to tourists such as maps, postcards and tea towels.”

A spokesperson for Coventry City Council said: “Since the end of 2017, a new senior management team has been in control at the independent Culture Coventry Trust and what they have found is that the business they had inherited was not sustainable.

“They have moved quickly to rectify the situation while ensuring that the much-loved attractions the Trust is responsible for, remain open and secure for the people of Coventry and further afield to enjoy.

“Providing this one-off additional funding is not ideal in the context of the wider financial challenges the council faces, but it allows the Trust to restructure, secure its future and pay back loans that the council is owed.”

The grant was approved at finance cabinet member John Mutton’s meeting last week for a “one-off advance of up to £370k by way of grant funding to Culture Coventry Trust to finance their restructure implementation costs, to be funded from the council’s earmarked reserve for ER/VRs.” (early retirement and voluntary redundancies)

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