London Southbank Centre workers pen open letter protesting against redundancies and “institutional racism”

The arts complex warned last month of a loss of up to 400 jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic

Workers at London’s Southbank Centre have written an open letter protesting against their forthcoming redundancies and a series of further claims.

The arts complex, which holds the Meltdown Festival annually, warned last month of a loss of up to 400 jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, staff have highlighted the “brutal” redundancies they face, claims of “institutional racism” and the threat to the future of the organisation in an open letter, which they have called on the public to sign.

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Amongst the claims are that the redundancies will “disproportionately affect the lowest-paid employees”.

The letter adds: “The at-risk group includes a high proportion of young people, people from BAME backgrounds and people with disabilities for whom it is more difficult to secure employment opportunities in the arts and so who will suffer the most from redundancy.”

Elsewhere, employees allege that “the formation of a network of BAME staff in 2019 was met by resistance by senior management, with attempts to disband it.”

The letter continues: “Yet the network was formally called upon for consultation in June this year after Southbank Centre were wrong-footed by their response to Black Lives Matter protests. Since then, their efforts to address structural racism and respond to the crisis of under-representation have been met by disturbing instances of racism, including one in which a board member stated that she did not believe in ‘victimhood’ and asked them if they were ‘proud to be people of colour’ and ‘proud to work at Southbank Centre’. Apologies from the Chief Executive Officer have been sought but not received.”

The open letter also claims that when the Southbank Centre “it will operate with an entirely new operating structure.

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“Staff have been told that the centre’s programme of contemporary art exhibitions, classical and contemporary music and literature events will be allocated just 10% of capacity across its venues with 90% reserved for rental,” it continues.

“This decision completely undermines the integrity of these respected cultural venues and will cause lasting damage to the ability of the Southbank Centre to provide for its audiences and fulfil the terms of its grant from Arts Council England (ACE).”

NME has reached out to a spokesperson at the Southbank Centre for a response to these claims.

Earlier this year, the Centre warned that it will be closed until at least April 2021.

It has been shut since March 17, with its 600 staff furloughed and the complex’s chief Elaine Bedell said at the time its financial reserves will run out by this September.

A Southbank spokesperson said last month because the centre was likely to remain closed until at least April 2021, and due to social distancing, many staff would have no work.

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