SCOTLAND’S largest conservation charity faces “death by 1,000 cuts” unless it radically overhauls how it does business, its chief executive has said.
Simon Skinner defended the planned overhaul of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) after it was announced that one in four staff is at risk of redundancy.
The organisation has said its properties have a repairs and upgrade backlog of almost £50 million and has only broken even in recent years thanks to bequests from wealthy donors.
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Mr Skinner has revealed that despite an overall rise in the popularity of Scotland’s tourist attractions, visits to Trust properties have declined by 250,000 in the past decade as many potential customers view it as “castle-owning elitists”.
He has also said that although NTS membership has been growing, it was largely confined to young families and older people making an average of just one visit to an NTS property per year.
The jobs of around 140 full-time staff at its Edinburgh headquarters are at risk under major restructuring plans in a bid to reduce running costs by 10 per cent.
The overhaul would see the functions of the NTS headquarters greatly reduced, with the organisation effectively broken into six regional groupings caring for its buildings and one nationwide body for the natural heritage, such as Glencoe, Glenfinnan and thousands of miles of coastline.
Sunset on Goatfell
But the union which represents hundreds of specialists and support staff at NTS said the charity “risked damage to its long-term aims by pursuing short-term cost savings”.
Prospect also described the move as “a devastating blow to Scotland’s heritage sector”.
Mr Skinner, however, said: “Our heritage is already at risk. What we’re trying to do is remedy that. Over the last 10 years we’ve lost 250,000 people who visited but don’t anymore.
“This at the same time as a 25 per cent increase to attractions in Scotland. There’s something not quite right there. We’re not seen as appealing. Young people don’t associate us as worthwhile but see us as castle-owning elitists.
“We’re also facing uncertainty over our income with a £47m backlog in conservation if we are to bring the properties up to the standards they should be at, while the economic climate has seen the value of our assets falling by £8m.
“We’ve broken even in the last few years but only achieved that by legacy income, typically of £4m per year over the past five years.”
Mr Skinner said the Trust had been heavily centralised to cope with a previous financial crisis almost a decade ago. He insisted attractions still provided value for money, adding that its stewardship of natural treasures such as Glencoe was too often overlooked.
Plans to widen the appeal, he said, would include moving on from the “1970s laminated technology” which still inform visitors at its attractions, opening up more commercial enterprises, making properties more family-friendly and operating in partnerships with other organisations.
He added: “In the longer term we’d be facing death by 1,000 cuts.”
Ian Perth, of Prospect, said: “Over the course of the 90-day consultation we will work with our members to ensure the Trust does everything possible to minimise compulsory redundancies.
“The Trust has committed to fully engaging with Prospect throughout the consultation process and we intend to leave no stone unturned in an effort to support our members. We have sought a number of clarifications from the Trust and are currently arranging a timetable for engagement.”