Assurances made future of Portsmouth’s museums ‘is safe’

The Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth
The Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum in Portsmouth
From left: PO Adam Hilton,  Father Christmas, Captain Peter Towell, CPO Chris 'Paddy' Gilkes and Malcolm Dent

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ASSURANCES have been made the future of Portsmouth’s museums are not under threat despite the need for savings being made.

The city council’s Tory administration is consulting with staff over changes it wants to make to the running of its attractions.

It is seeking to hire more volunteers to cut back costs and reduce the number of paid seasonal staff being taken on from 10 to eight in the summer months.

Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum is also set to be open three days a week instead of six due to lack of footfall.

But the council insists existing staff will not be laid off and replaced with volunteers - and paid staff will still be taken on to cover shifts at the Dickens museum.

Councillor Linda Symes, Tory cabinet for culture, leisure and sport, said: ‘The museums are not under threat. We have always had a strong volunteer base and we are always seeking to bring more volunteers in.

‘They always have trained staff with them, it helps them develop skills and go on to get a job.

‘It’s especially useful for older people as it keeps them active and helps them to feel they are doing something valuable for the city.’

The temporary exhibition gallery at Portsmouth City Museum is also being replaced with a permanent one.

The assurance come despite Unite union, which represents a portion of council workers, saying staff have ‘grave concerns’ opening hours will inevitably be slashed under such arrangements.

The union says there has already been a ‘drastic reduction’ in museum staff in recent years, with dozens of redundancies and closed posts.

Over the past five years, the museum services budget has been slashed by £150,000 and further cuts of around £100,000 are expected up to 2017, which Unite says could ‘bring the service to the brink of closure.’

Unite regional officer Ian Woodland said: ‘We could experience a sea change for the city’s museums from being staffed by paid, experienced professionals to a service dependant on volunteers.

‘We believe that this change in delivery, coupled with the ending of temporary exhibitions, will see a decline in what the museums can offer in Portsmouth to residents and tourists alike.

‘At a time when the city council can offer to bail out the Theatre Royal project to the tune of £150,000, our members feel justifiably let down.

‘With all the cuts so far making it hard for staff to run the current museum service, the prospect of closed museums will become a regular – and dismal - feature of Portsmouth life.

‘It feels like we have a service that is being managed into decline. If nothing is done then it will be completely wound down until there isn’t anything left.’

Unite believes, in future, it is likely volunteers alone would run all the Portsmouth sites include the D-Day museum, Southsea Castle and Eastney Beam Engine Museum.