Kew staff meet to voice concerns over cuts following £5m funding shortfall

Public meeting hears that 65 jobs have gone at Kew to date and £3m has already been spent on redundancy payouts.

Speak Up for Kew: public meeting attended by staff and supporters
Speak Up for Kew: public meeting attended by staff and supporters

Staff at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew have voiced their distress at having to fight for their jobs to help fill a £5m-a-year funding shortfall.

Speaking at a public meeting held in a church hall near the gardens on 22 October, Kew staff spoke of the pain of having to reapply for their own jobs and competing with colleagues with whom they have worked with for decades - and complained that Kew managers are failing to stand up for the gardens.

The "Speak Up For Kew" meeting was packed with a mixture of Kew staff, local people and other supporters, including representatives of the Prospect, GMB and PCS unions, which organised the event. Local MPs Zac Goldsmith and John McDonnell and ethnobotanist James Wong were on the panel, along with trade unionists.

The meeting heard that 65 jobs have gone already, with 40 more redundancies in the pipeline, and that £3m has been spent on redundancy payouts so far. Hayes and Harlington MP McDonnell said: "For the remaining staff the pressure is immense. We have seen some tragic results. I'm worried we're near to tipping point."

He added: "People treasure Kew but the entry price is becoming prohibitive. The last thing we want is for Kew to become the preserve of rich families. It needs significant state support. We need long-term stability."

Across-the-board cuts at Defra of up to 15 per cent would, if applied to Kew, mean "the survival of Kew as we know it now is questionable", said McDonnell.

Richmond MP Goldsmith agreed, warning: "I think it's impossible to reconcile these cuts with any sort of sustainable future for Kew."

If "national treasure" Kew is required to become more commercial, it would risk losing public interest in science, he said, giving GM food as an example. Many of the problems solved by GM foods could be solved by biotech but there is no commercial money in biotech research because nobody can patent the outcome.

Kew employees said they understand progress is necessary but criticised the way the restructuring is being done. "We feel that we are being decimated," said Kew IT worker and PCS representative Mala Tu. "We feel like we're being discarded."

Kew scientist Rose Simpson added: "Everybody is trying to reapply for their jobs - I'm absolutely gutted. The Government has thrown millions at the banks and £5m is nothing." Colleague David Binns said: "We were told that restructuring would happen even if we didn't have the cuts."

Prospect general-secretary Mike Clancy wondered how the Government could risk Kew over £5m when MPs spent £103m in expenses last year. Kew botanist Lourdes Ricco said this is the third redundancy process she has been through at Kew and the least transparent.

Meeting - Speakers contribute to debate

Orchid expert Phillip Cribb, who worked at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew from 1974 to 2006, said: "It is the premier botanic garden in the world.

"For people who respect science, it has an incomparable collection of herbarium samples. More than its collection, it has its experienced staff - the best in the world.

"Kew is the one institution that can give you names for plants. Missouri (Botanical Garden) has a great collection but they can't name them. They send them to Kew."

Ethnobotanist James Wong added: "We are facing a global famine by 2050. The problem with Kew is people think it is just an adorable garden. If we lose the scientific experience there we won't get it back.

"The problem is flowers look too good - if they looked like microchips or oil then maybe the politicians would understand."

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