National Trust for Scotland set to axe one in four staff

St Kilda is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Picture: PA
St Kilda is managed by the National Trust for Scotland. Picture: PA
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Scotland’s biggest conservation charity is set to axe more than a quarter of its full-time staff under a multi-million pound cost-cutting drive.

More than half of the 250-strong workforce at the National Trust for Scotland’s headquarters in Edinburgh have been told their jobs are under threat.

Almost 50 staff have been told that they will lose their jobs unless they are prepared to relocate as part of the restructuring, ordered by new chief executive Simon Skinner, who was appointed a year ago.

NTS, which has 540 full-time equivalent staff, said the bulk of the 142 “at risk” posts are based at its Hermiston Quay headquarters. The charity only relocated there six years ago after selling off its historic New Town home under a previous savings programme.

The cuts are being made in a bid to reduce NTS’s running costs by 10 per cent and instead plough £4 million worth of savings into a £17m overhaul of parts of its portfolio.

Priorities include modernising and creating new facilities at some of most important sites. NTS has seen a 250,000 slump in visitors to its attractions over the past decade.

The three-year programme, which will be rolled out across 13 different sites, is the first phase of a drive to tackle a “conservation backlog” worth £47m. He said the changes – which include a slimmed down management structure and the creation of six new regional teams – would ensure the trust is “fit for the future.”

He has promised to create “world-class” experiences at sites like Culzean Castle, in Ayrshire, Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran, Newhailes House, in East Lothian and the Glenfinnan Monument, in the West Highlands.

However union leaders described the cuts by the 85-year-old trust, as a “devastating blow” for Scotland’s heritage sector. They raised concerns over the impact on “significantly stretched” staff and claimed replacing full-time staff with contractors would have a long-term “damaging” effect on its work.

However Mr Skinner, previously chief executive of finance giant Aegon Ireland, described NTS’s overhaul as “a visionary transformation”. He insisted it had no plans to close down attractions.

He added: “Efficiencies will enable us to continue to invest in properties and create a virtuous circle which will result in us earning more income from increasing numbers of visitors and members. This will allow us to address the conservation backlog that has been a long-standing barrier to our ambitions.

“It’s essential for every organisation to adapt to the challenges it faces – that’s what we’ve done and the resulting changes will bring immense benefits to the care of Scotland’s heritage, our members and the people of Scotland.”

Ian Perth, negotiations officer at the Prospect Union, said: “Our members are already significantly stretched and continue to do valuable work for the charity in difficult times.

“We’re concerned the proposals rely heavily on replacing full-time staff with contractors. Although a move like this can show short-term cost reductions, they risk damaging the trust in the long-term.”

The trust, which cares for 129 properties across the length and breadth of Scotland, is also one of the the country’s biggest landowners.

Its portfolio includes 90,000 acres of countryside, 46 Munros, 394 miles of mountain footpaths, 10,000 archaeological sites and 45 sites of special scientific interest.

It is also responsible for the Culloden and Bannockburn battlefields, the birthplaces of Robert Burns, JM Barrie and David Livingstone, Falkland Palace in Fife, and the St Kilda world heritage site.

NTS, which is largely funded by its 350,000-strong membership, was brought to the brink of bankruptcy in 2008 after it emerged there was a £3 million black hole in its finances.

The trust later axed 45 jobs and embarked on a lengthy overhaul overseen by a new chief executive, Kate Mavor. She stood down at the beginning of last year to take up a new job as the chief executive of English Heritage.