Written by Kenneth Gibson, MSP
On 11 May, the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), the country’s largest and oldest conservation charity, announced a series of emergency actions designed to ensure its survival during the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
Unfortunately, this announcement included placing 429 staff from its permanent workforce of 751 at risk of redundancy, including 16 at Brodick Castle.
This was inexplicable, given it was made the day before the Chancellor was to announce the future of the UK Government’s furlough scheme, which pays up to 80% of the wages of staff who are retained but cannot work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Brodick Castle closed before for a facelift and I attended its reopening just over a year ago. Fears now are that if it closes again, not only will 16 local people lose their jobs, it could be years before the castle, a much-loved island attraction, reopens.
The extreme and unprecedented public health emergency has put the charity’s future in doubt. Following lockdown, income has plummeted across the NTS’s iconic attractions. Although NTS acted urgently to sell non-heritage land and property while seeking support from grant-giving bodies, total losses could run to £74 million this year.
Since 1931, the Trust has been Scotland’s only conservation body with a holistic portfolio. Their work encompasses built, natural and cultural heritage; archaeological sites, grand estates and gardens, plants, birds, natural habitats, farmland and crofts, paintings, furniture and much else.
NTS has a presence in every corner of Scotland from the most northerly tip of Shetland to the south coast of Dumfries and Galloway and from the east at St Abb’s Head to the most westerly islands of St Kilda, 64 kilometres into the Atlantic Ocean.
Brodick Castle is one of these incredibly important sites and on 13 May I asked what the Scottish Government would do to ensure the NTS survives, thereby saving jobs and NTS’ historic legacy for future generations.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP responded that at we all want the NTS not just to survive but thrive, showcasing our national assets not just to a domestic but to a global audience and that Scottish Ministers will help, where possible.
Just how important NTS is to Scottish tourism is highlighted in figures released by the charity, which show it delivers more than £300 million of annual economic gain to Scotland and accounts for 54% of attraction visits in Ayrshire and Arran.
NTS has opened a formal consultation process which began on Friday 15 May and will be open for 45 days before a final decision is taken.
This is a consultation primarily with affected staff who will be contacted by phone and afterwards receive a formal, written notice that they are to be placed at risk of redundancy. They will have a chance to respond or ask questions via: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once the consultation period is over, outcomes will be summarised, and individual staff told if they will be made redundant and, if so, on what terms. There will be a further two-week period for people to appeal these decisions. Clearly, this will be a very difficult time for NTS staff.
NTS aim to update their FAQs periodically as issues are raised. Their FAQ and all the latest information can be found here.
Meanwhile, Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop MSP and NTS are in discussions to see what support Scottish Ministers can offer to both preserve employment and the priceless attractions over which NTS is custodian.