National Trust Director admits it is losing 'knowledgeable' experts

Brain drain at National Trust amid ‘dumbing down’ row: Director admits organisation is losing experts who are ‘hugely knowledgeable’ as it sheds 1,200 staff due to Covid fallout

  • Hilary McGrady said charity has been hit ‘extraordinarily badly’ by the pandemic
  • She said number of staff with ‘curator’ in their title will be reduced from 111 to 80
  • It follows charity being accused of ‘dumbing down’ after a document was leaked
  • It suggested the trust will ‘dial down’ role as a ‘major national cultural institution’ 

The National Trust’s Director has admitted the organisation is losing experts who are ‘hugely knowledgeable’ as it sheds 1,200 staff due to the Covid-19 fallout.

Hilary McGrady said the charity has been hit ‘extraordinarily badly’ by the pandemic and will cut its full-time staff, alongside a ‘large number’ of its seasonal staff.

She also revealed the number of workers who have ‘curator’ in their title will be reduced from 111 staff to around 80.

It comes as an internal document, leaked earlier this week, suggests the trust plans to ‘dial down’ its role as a ‘major national cultural institution’.

Hilary McGrady, pictured in May this year, said the charity has been hit ‘extraordinarily badly’ by the pandemic and will cut its full-time staff, alongside a ‘large number’ of its seasonal staff

But the charity’s director general insisted the briefing is only ‘in draft’ and has been changed multiple times since being leaked.

Ms McGrady told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘The National Trust has been hit extraordinary badly by Covid-19, think we’re already on record of saying we will lose £200million this year and we are absolutely expecting to be trading well below our normal standards for at least another one if not two years. 

‘So the changes that are really regrettably, and I have to really be clear this morning, we are in the middle of a legal consultation process. I am hugely, hugely sad that we are having to propose losing any staff.

‘I value every one of them, and we’re in a really difficult position that we’re in the middle of this consultation when this internal document, which was really genuinely only meant for our eyes, it’s in draft and has been changed many times since the version that you would have seen, that is was leaked. 

‘I can understand why because people are genuinely and quite honestly very anxious about the rules and of course that’s understandable. But the two things are very separate and we would not be making these changes were we not under financial stress.’

On the changes that the trust plans to make, she said: ‘In terms of potentially losing staff we have proposals on the table for losing up to 1200 members of our full-time salary staff and in addition we will lose a large number of what we would call seasonal staff or hourly paid staff.’ 

Ms McGrady revealed the charity’s catering staff have been cut by 40 per cent and their marketing staff by over 30 per cent, but a cap has been set for workers within housing collections, gardens and landscapes to minimise the impact in those areas.

Referring to whether the organisation will have less expertise, she added: ‘We will have less people. We have to have less people, and we will lose. 

The leaked internal document revealed proposals to hold less exhibitions inside its houses and keep its collections in storage (pictured: Culzean Castle, owned by National Trust for Scotland)

The charity was accused of ‘dumbing down’ some of its houses to publicise them as ‘buildings of beauty or historic interest’ (pictured: National Trust garden and house Powis Castle, Wales)

‘But just to put this in context, we currently have 111 people who have curator in their title, we will end up with about 80 people with curator in their title. And these are people who are hugely knowledgeable, they have expertise, they have knowledge. 

‘None of that is going out through the door. What you are seeing, and I can understand why, we are changing a number of the role titles. So the textile expert for example will absolutely be able to go for one of these other roles and I fully expect that we can hold on to the expertise that we have. 

‘But I cannot pretend that we are going to keep them all because we simply can’t afford to keep doing everything the way we were before.’ 

It follows the trust being accused of ‘dumbing down’ its houses to publicise them as ‘buildings of beauty or historic interest’, after its ten-year strategy was leaked.

The document revealed proposals to hold less exhibitions inside its houses and keep its collections in storage.

Art historian Bendor Grosvenor told The Times that the trust’s bosses have been ‘making a mess of their historic properties for some time’, claiming they are ‘dumbing down presentation and moving away from knowledge and expertise’. 

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