Staff cuts undermine museum holding Pride of the Potteries

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The Independent Online

The showpiece museum that houses the world's finest collection of Staffordshire pottery is under threat because of staff cuts.

The showpiece museum that houses the world's finest collection of Staffordshire pottery is under threat because of staff cuts.

Experts fear that years of scholarship will be lost at the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent if the city council presses ahead with £90,000 of cuts and a restructuring of services. Six curators - compared with 16 five years ago - will be left to care for collections that were founded in Stoke in the 1830s and include pieces by Josiah Wedgwood, as well as other notable manufacturers.

John Mallet, president of the English Ceramic Circle, said: "It's a world centre. The whole history of Staffordshire pottery is centred there, and what on earth is Stoke remembered for if not for its pottery? ... These are ferocious cuts that will cripple the museum."

Four members of staff face redundancy, and others re-assignment and the downgrading of their jobs, under the scheme announced by the city council earlier this year.

The public service union Unison has protested to the council, but there are fears that the cuts could be implemented as early as next month. The alarm has been sounded as Resource, the national museums body, investigates the state of regional museums after warnings that they were dying through lack of investment.

A spokesman for Unison said: "We're obviously concerned about jobs, but mainly it's ... the ability of this world-class museum to continue to deliver a world-class service. It's the experts that bring a museum collection to the people."

David Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund. which campaigns to save great art for the nation, said he hoped that a decision would not be taken too quickly. "We're concerned that, for the sake of what is really quite a modest sum of money, there might be redundancies that have a really damaging long-term effect on the knowledge base of the museum," he said.

Barry Stockley, leader of the council, was unavailable for comment. But in a letter to campaigners, he said that the decisions had been dictated by the need to provide the best value in services. "We have had to make difficult spending choices and the changes we are making ... are not simply intended to make savings, but also to improve services to visitors," he wrote.

More than 200,000 people visit the museum every year, and staff answer 10,000 inquiries. The museum is based on a number of collections, which came under one roof in 1911. They have since been augmented with work by 20th-century ceramicists such as Bernard Leach and Clarice Cliff. The entire museum has been housed in a modern gallery since the 1970s.