London wouldn’t be the city it is without its 900-year-old fortress, Tudor palaces and landscaped gardens. But, in these uncertain times, some of the landmarks most synonymous with the capital are under threat – the Tower of London, London Zoo and the Cutty Sark included.
While London’s lockdown restrictions may be lifting, many of the city’s most-loved attractions have lost millions of pounds in income after being closed for this long period. Many are unable to access large grants and government funding and the expectation of lower visitor numbers due to social-distancing measures and lack of tourism as they gradually reopen means this shortfall in funding will not be remedied easily.
This situation means that major charity Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), which manages the Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace, Kew Palace, Banqueting House and Kensington Palace in London, is exploring the possibility of pay cuts and redundancies for many staff after facing a £95 million shortfall this year.
HRP cannot access the financial help that the government is providing to businesses because of its charitable status. It raises its own funds from visitors, events, membership, donors and sponsors. GMB union, which represents many of HRP’s workers, released a statement saying that, with the palaces having been closed for 12 weeks, hundreds of HRP staff have been told they are at risk of redundancy. The employees who may suffer job losses and cuts to their working hours include the famous Beefeaters at the Tower of London, who are all ex-servicemen and women and many of whom live in the grounds of the Tower of London.
John Barnes, chief executive at HRP, said: ‘Historic Royal Palaces is a self-funded charity. We depend on visitors for 80 percent of our income. The closure of our six sites for three months has dealt a devastating blow to our finances, which we expect to continue for the rest of the financial year and to be compounded by the slow recovery of international tourism.
‘We are facing a £95 million shortfall this year. We have taken every possible measure to secure our financial position, but we need to do more to survive in the long term. We simply have no choice but to reduce our payroll costs,’ added Barnes, admitting the charity was ‘heartbroken’ by its decision.
GMB is calling on the government to intervene. Mick Ainsley, its London region organiser said: ‘The government must step in with a package to support these jobs at risk. While we are very mindful of the potential wider damage to our cultural industry, our members at HRP and their families are a far greater priority than the jewels and centuries-old bricks and mortar that they look after.’
Historic Royal Palaces is not the only London institution facing tough times. London Zoo, which reopened to visitors last week, has warned it’s facing an ‘uncertain future’ due to the current crisis. ZSL director general, Dominic Jermey, said: ‘After being closed for so many months, reopening ZSL’s zoos will by no means be an instant fix: as an international conservation charity which relies heavily on zoo ticket sales to fund our vital work, we will still urgently need support to keep our two zoos running smoothly, our scientists investigating wildlife diseases such as Covid-19, and our conservationists working in the field to protect Critically Endangered species.’
Royal Museums Greenwich has put out a call for donations on its website saying: ‘Ticket sales to Cutty Sark and Royal Observatory Greenwich have stopped overnight, and so the museum is incurring huge losses daily. Over 50 percent of our income comes from ticket sales and other commercial activity from across the museums, and so at this difficult time, please consider donating generously.’
Many small special interest museums in London, such as Dennis Severs’ House, Charles Dickens Museum and the Florence Nightingale Museum, that rely on visitor entrance fees to remain open, have also warned they may not survive.
The uncertainty faced by London’s cultural institutions has led to calls for the government to step in. PCS union, which represents some workers at HRP, says: ‘As many cultural institutions face huge uncertainty in the coming months and years, with visitor numbers not expected to return to pre-coronavirus crisis levels for three or four years, the PCS Culture Group has called for emergency government funding for culture to help society recover from the crisis and a reversal of privatisation in the culture sector.’
If you’re worried about London’s historic landmarks, HRP says the best way to support the institutions is by making a donation, joining as a member and visiting its sites when they reopen. Hampton Court Palace’s grounds is welcoming people now and the Tower of London will reopen in July.
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