The famous Beefeaters at the Tower of London are among staff at six palaces in London and Northern Ireland threatened by redundancies as the coronavirus pandemic hits visitor numbers.
Historic Royal Palaces (HRP), the charity that looks after the palaces, faces a shortfall of £98m this year, and it expects visitor numbers to take years to recover to 2019 levels.
It is thought to be the first time since the Tower of London was built in 1485 by Henry VII that the yeoman warders, the ceremonial guardians of the tower popularly known as Beefeaters, face the threat of compulsory redundancy. It is understood that two Beefeaters have so far opted to take voluntary redundancy, but further cuts are possible.
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Heritage sites across the UK face threats to their future as the pandemic reduces visitor numbers.
New forecasts for the 2020 financial year suggest HRP will make revenues of only £12m, compared with the £110m forecast before the pandemic. There are about 800 visitors to the Tower of London a day, compared with as many as 15,000 on busy summer days in previous years. The Tower has capacity for about 1,000 visitors with social distancing.
The charity has already carried out a programme of voluntary redundancies, but it is likely to require further job losses to reduce its wage bill to below £30m for the financial year, compared with more than £50m in the previous 12 months. Staff have taken a 20% pay cut from July to October, with a recruitment freeze and unpaid leave also implemented to cut costs.
As well as the Tower of London, the affected employees work at Hampton Court, Kensington Palace, the Banqueting House and Kew Palace, as well as Hillsborough Castle in Northern Ireland.
The pressure at the Tower of London is particularly acute because of its role in protecting the crown jewels, which include the regalia used at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth and likely to be used by her successors. The fixed security costs of protecting the crown jewels are covered by the charity, with no contributions by either the government or the royal family.
HRP has not received specific financial aid from the government during the pandemic. However, the charity has gained permission from the government for a £26m loan from its bank on commercial terms.
John Barnes, the HRP chief executive, said: ‘‘Historic Royal Palaces is a self-funded charity. We depend on visitors for 80% of our income. The closure of our six sites for almost four months has dealt a devastating blow to our finances, which we expect to continue for the rest of the financial year and to be compounded by the slow recovery of international tourism. We urgently need the public to support us by visiting our sites now they have reopened.
“We have taken every possible measure to secure our financial position, but we need to do more to survive in the long term. We simply have no choice but to reduce our payroll costs.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Buckingham Palace have been contacted for comment.
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