REDUCED working hours for staff and further redundancies have been announced at Westminster Abbey, as it continues to grapple with the fallout from the pandemic and the collapse in overseas visitor numbers.
The majority of the abbey’s staff have been asked to accept reduced working hours to cut the wage bill, but there is to be a further round of redundancies this autumn, on top of the 20-per-cent cut in staff suffered last year.
The Dean and Chapter repeated the phrase that they have used throughout the pandemic, saying that it was “a matter of deep regret . . . that we must take these steps”. Opening hours and worship will not be affected by the cut in staff hours, they said.
Although visitors have returned, the continued absence of overseas tourists in particular has affected heritage buildings in London, including the abbey and St Paul’s Cathedral. More than 90 per cent of the abbey’s income comes from its entrance fee, as does two-thirds of St Paul’s.
In a statement, the abbey said: “Though we are starting to see visitors return to the Abbey, it will take many months for visitor numbers to start growing again. It is likely to be some years before they approach anything like the 1.34 million we welcomed in the year to September 2019.
“We have sustained significant financial losses. In the autumn of last year, we had no choice but to bring our expenditure into line with a significantly reduced level of income for the foreseeable future. We made good progress in reducing operating and project costs, but the necessary restructuring programme involved redundancies.
“The financial challenges facing the Abbey continued into 2021, and now we have no choice but to ask most of our staff to accept reduce working hours for a while in an effort to reduce our wage bill. We shall also implement another small number of redundancies.”
As a Royal Peculiar, the Abbey is not eligible for funding from the Church Commissioners. St Paul’s Cathedral, which is, said earlier this year that it might have to close its doors owing to the loss of income from tourism. This week, a spokesperson said that it was continuing to look for other sources of funding to sustain it, as visitor numbers remained low. It received £3.3 million from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, but this covered only its essential running costs for a limited period of time.
St Paul’s put the majority of its staff on furlough, but also made almost 25 per cent of staff redundant during the pandemic. All remaining staff have now returned from furlough, the spokesperson said.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on St Paul’s Cathedral, alongside many other churches and businesses in the UK. We rely on visitor income to cover our essential costs, therefore closures and reduced tourist numbers resulted in a significant drop in income.
“In order to see us through lockdown, we maximised the use of the Government’s furlough scheme, used our reserves, and sadly had to go through a restructuring process leading to redundancies. However, with the end of furlough, we have reopened for normal services, and are welcoming back all our staff and visitors to the Cathedral. We continue to review all possible sources of funding, and other ways to generate income into 2021 and into the future.”
It is understood that the cathedral has just secured a bank loan for £5 million.
Outside the capital, Exeter Cathedral was forced to lose 16 staff during the lockdown, and put many of its staff on furlough. Most staff returned last summer, when the cathedral reopened, but two remained on part-time furlough until the end of the scheme last month, the Dean, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, said. The cathedral was “immensely grateful for the furlough scheme, as we faced financial disaster”.
Exeter Cathedral has also benefited from the Culture Recovery Fund, and secured funding from the Church Commissioners and other grant-making bodies, to help see it through lockdowns. A rush of tourists to the West Country this summer also boosted visitor numbers, although overseas visitors were still absent.
“As a medium-size cathedral, we are not as reliant on visitor incomes as a very large cathedral, and it has not been as bad for us as others. I am very grateful for where we are. The people of Devon have been very generous and have shown us how much they care about the cathedral, and want it to survive.
“Though we aren’t flush with cash now, we are in a viable position. However, if there were another lockdown, that would be a huge setback.”
A spokesman for Church House, Westminster, said that, although cathedrals are still facing challenges, plans are in place for their recovery.