Massive staff cuts at British Library

Cost saving measures to hit 200 jobs and threaten further delay to opening
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The Independent Online
MARIANNE MACDONALD

Arts Correspondent

The British Library is to institute a swingeing series of cuts to staff and core services in a move which could further delay the long-expected opening of its St Pancras building.

Strategies for containing its spiralling costs include reducing staff by 200, sacking or not replacing senior managers, halving the budget for manuscript purchase and reducing the spend on book conservation.

The library blames the need for cuts on the Government's refusal to substantially increase its grant - but this may itself be prompted by the mismanagement of the St Pancras project.

The library had bid for a grant of pounds 88m this financial year, but received pounds 85m. Next year it wanted pounds 101m but has been offered pounds 88m, and the year after it can expect pounds 82m instead of the pounds 96m it wanted.

Part of the extra had been intended to cover the one-off expenses of the relocation to St Pancras from Bloomsbury, such as book moves, extra staffing and maintenance costs.

But although the construction of the new building is the responsibility of the Heritage Department, the Kafkaesque difficulties of completing it have not gained the library much sympathy.

Problems with broken shelving, faulty air conditioning and sprinklers, not to mention contractual disputes with workmen, have meant it will not open fully before 1998. It was originally due in 1989.

The difficulties continue, according to reports from the site. All the doors are said to have been replaced, while the built-in drinks dispensers are already out of date, and the mains switches faulty.

In all, the building is expected to cost pounds 496m, nearly three times early estimates. The public relations disaster - Prince Charles described it as "a dim collection of sheds groping for some symbolic significance" - will be worsened by the latest revelations.

Over the next four years the library intends to reduce staff by at least 200, about 10 per cent. Although it claims that the majority of jobs will be shed by natural wastage, it admits redundancies will be made.

As many as 40 senior management posts will be cut and dozens of jobs lost under plans to relocate acquisition and cataloguing duties to from London to Boston Spa.

The library also intends to cut pounds 3m from its acquisitions budget this year and to save pounds 1.7m by cancelling duplicates of overseas journals.

A further pounds 1m will be taken from the book conservation budget and there will be a reduction of almost pounds 200,000 - more than 10 per cent - in research grants.

The research and development department will also be restructured to reduce the number of employees.

Such economies are not expected to fulfil the shortfall, however. The library intends to substantially push up the costs of its specialist search services, such as searches abroad, to raise extra revenue.

David Mellor, one of the nine Secretaries of State for National Heritage who shared responsibility for the British Library, has compared the building of the St Pancras site to pouring millions of pounds down a hole.

Brian Lake, secretary of the Regular Readers Group, said he was horrified by the cuts. "This is the destruction of an institution. It's reducing it to the status of a provincial library."

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