This blog is a written response to Julie Ward MEP's recent blog, 'Standing Together with National Gallery Staff', which can be read here
I am sure that Julie Ward's recollection of her visit to the National Gallery as a teenager is reliable (even though she would not have seen any Pre-Raphaelite paintings here), but she has misunderstood the reasons for the changes we are making. These are determined by our need to maintain free access, to extend the services and improve the education we provide, as well as to generate income and encourage support at a time when the government grant is reduced.
Julie Ward claims that the dispute over outsourcing with the PCS Union is mostly about the London Living Wage and job losses. In fact, we have long been determined to introduce the London Living Wage, and we recently announced that this has been finalised and will be in effect from 1 July 2015. Also, there will be no job losses as all employees will be able to transfer to the outsource provider and retain their current roles.
I can also dispel Julie's fear that this 'could be the start of a worrying trend'. We are one of the last major museums to take this step and we can learn from the experience of other institutions that have done this successfully. Similarly, her concern that the quality service provided by our gallery attendants will be damaged is unwarranted. Staff supplied by a private contractor, but trained by us, have been working in the Sainsbury Wing for many months. They have been well received by the public and the independent assessments of the service they provide has been very good. Furthermore, these roles will continue to be filled by the current gallery assistants if they agree to transfer, as we hope they will.
We negotiated for months to find an internal solution and the decision to outsource was not taken lightly. The welfare of all the staff working here remains of concern to us and we are doing our utmost to ensure that those who are outsourced are treated well and fairly.
Nicholas Penny is director of the National Gallery