Opening hours at Leeds’s museums and galleries are to be cut – and the equivalent of 23 full-time jobs are to be slashed – as council bosses try to claw back £500,000 of savings.
The news comes less than a month after the YEP reported that Leeds had officially thrown its hat in the ring to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.
The council says its hand has been forced by “very difficult” financial pressures which have included a raft of cost-cutting measures.
The changes include cutting evening opening times at Leeds City Museum and Leeds Art Gallery, and evicting or relocating a number of community arts groups who use the facilities. Seasonal changes will also be made to opening hours at Temple Newsam House.
A number of managerial, technical and visitor assistant jobs are to be deleted, and several vacant positions will not be filled.
The new structures are expected to come into effect on April 20.
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “Even after several years of budgetary reductions, the council is still facing some very difficult decisions in the future and this will continue to have an impact on the way that our services have to be managed.
“The council’s museums service is incredibly popular. We put a lot of emphasis on ensuring the service is outward-looking and reaches communities across the city and none of these changes will alter that approach.
“In setting out a reduction in opening hours we have aimed to balance the financial pressures we face with ensuring the potential impact on visitors is as minimal as it can be.
“The new opening hours will still provide an excellent opportunity for people to come and visit our museums and galleries, which continue to be the largest local authority-run service in England.”
The YEP understands there has been ongoing consultation with staff and trade unions to minimise job losses by changing rotas.
The cuts represent the final part of a £700,000 savings package the authority is trying to embed for the four years up to the end of 2014/15.
Dan Cohen, who sits on the council’s internal cultural watchdog panel and is also the authority’s shadow spokesman on arts and culture, said the financial pressures facing the council were understandable, but he added that “in this context, it does concern me that we are not protecting opening times”.
“These are the cornerstones of our cultural offering,” he said.
He claimed the council was making some ”really odd decisions”, including funding some relatively minor cultural events while scrapping other calendar stalwarts like Party in the Park and Opera in the Park.
A council report seen by the YEP says: “Current budget pressures mean that the service has had to look at how things could be done differently in order to try and provide an even more efficient service to our customers.
“The proposals limit the impact to a small reduction of service at periods already identified as of limited demand to customers and will provide a staff saving of £500,000.”
It adds: “The service has already delivered significant resource reductions over the past four years through voluntary changes to ways of working, reduction in posts, trialling joint working initiatives and increased income generation totalling some £200,000.
“These were achieved without impacting on public opening hours or through any reduction in services offered.”
>Ten years ago, Leeds’s museums and galleries attracted 334,000 visits. Last year the total visits exceeded more than 1.25m.
>Every year over 1,000 items from the city’s collections are lent to venues locally, nationally and internationally.
>The Museum and Galleries service’s Arts Council Major Museum Partnership Programme funding has increased from £150,000 in 2003 to £1.59m this year. The latest award covering 2015-18 is, alongside Manchester, the largest award made.
>Leeds City Museum, founded by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, will celebrate its bicentenary in 2021.
>Source for facts and figures: Leeds City Council
Reduced opening hours proposed are:
>Leeds Art Gallery: Close the gallery all day Monday and close the building fully at 5pm each day.
>Leeds City Museum: Closing at 5pm on Thursdays (instead of 7pm). Museum remains closed on Mondays but open for conference hire.
Temple Newsam House: Shut Temple Newsam House to visitors from November to February half term. Open for pre-arranged school visits and guided tours only.