Scottish Opera Plans Massive Job Cuts to Stave Off Cash Crisis
Monday, November 30, -0001
The Independent [London] - 12 April 2004
A third of the staff of the Scottish Opera, including the chorus, are facing the axe as the company battles to solve a mounting cash crisis.
The Independent has learnt that a rescue package presented to the Scottish Arts Council and the Scottish Executive, but kept secret from staff, proposes cutting 80 people from the full complement of 240.
Scottish Equity, the actors' union, fears that the 34-strong chorus is under threat as part of the plan to tackle a deficit which has forced the company to request a £4 million advance on next year's £7.5 million Scottish Arts Council grant.
Lorne Boswell, the secretary of Scottish Equity, warned that if the redundancies went ahead, they could devastate the company by scattering talent that may never return.
Mr. Boswell has joined forces with Paul McManus, of BECTU, which represents technical and front-of-house staff, in demanding clarification of Scottish Opera management's proposals.
Mr. Boswell said he understood that the best-case scenario involved the chorus being made redundant. If correct, the threat is worse than last year's to the chorus at the English National Opera. Its chorus went on strike to fight plans to axe a third of its 60 members.
The danger for the Scottish Opera is that once lost, such jobs may never be replaced because the singers would leave Scotland for permanent work elsewhere. There is little work in Scotland that is comparable.
In a letter to Frank McAveety, the Scottish Culture Minister, Mr. Boswell and Mr. McManus said: "We believe that if the body of talent that works for Scottish Opera is dismantled, the investment of the last 40 years would be wasted. It may never be possible to put it back together again."
In a letter to Graham Berry, the director of the Scottish Arts Council, the union leaders repeat their fear that the "very existence" of the company is under threat. "We accept that ... the company must prove that it has the competence to live within its means. [But] we believe that any attempt to use wholesale lay-offs will damage the company beyond repair."
The unions are calling for the company to be used "more imaginatively" while the cash crisis is tackled.
The Friends of Scottish Opera have launched a campaign to persuade Mr. McAveety to preserve the future of "an essential part of the fabric of Scotland's musical life" amid fears that Scottish MPs will allow the company to go to the wall.
Scottish Opera's recent production of Wagner's Ring cycle was acclaimed by critics but left the company with a deficit which prompted the decision to draw £4 million of next year's £7.5 million grant.
The Scottish Executive has said the money must be paid back, leaving many baffled as to how the sums will add up ó and raising the prospect that the company will go bust.
The unions have proposed that Scottish Opera suspend full-scale works and concentrate on medium and small-scale productions until the crisis is resolved.
Critics have long accused Scottish Opera of operating beyond its means and believe that Richard Armstrong, its music director, has refused to accept financial reality in his quest for high artistic standards. But it is also widely accepted that the company has not received the funding necessary for such an expensive art form.
The Welsh National Opera receives £9 million in public funding from the Welsh and English Arts Councils. The English National Opera's grant this year is just over £16 million and the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden receives £23.1 million.
A spokeswoman for Scottish Opera said she was unable to discuss plans while they were being considered by the Arts Council and ministers.
(C) 2004 The Independent - London. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved