Johnson was visiting Singapore Botanic Gardens to boost its bid for World Heritage status. Kew has a long history with the Singapore gardens, to which it provided 22 rubber tree seedlings in 1877 – kick-starting south east Asia’s rubber industry.
The scientists, who are members of Prospect union, are fighting to save Kew’s science from devastating job cuts which could result in the loss of more than 1,000 years’ of science expertise.
Kew had 244 staff in its science directorate at the start of 2014. Sixty-five staff from across the organisation have left already and 51 scientists were told via email on Friday 28 November that they are now surplus to requirements. If the people who have been declared surplus are not found other positions, Kew could lose up to 40% of its science staff.
In an interview with BBC London News on 29 November, Johnson denied any knowledge of the cuts. He did say that: “Singapore’s relationship with one of our most quintessentially British brands is testament to the huge appetite there is for London’s expertise overseas. I think it’s absolutely stupefying. What was so amazing was to see the connection between London and the Singapore botanical gardens.”
Prospect negotiator Julie Flanagan said: “The Mayor of London is well aware of the situation at Kew. He must have had a memory lapse between London and Singapore.
“It’s great that the mayor is backing Singapore Botanical Gardens. Let’s hope he can now step up to offer the same support for the world-leading botanical garden in his own back yard – Kew.”
The new science directorate structure at Kew currently has 42 vacancies. Prospect has asked Kew to fill those posts with existing Kew staff, unless internal candidates are clearly and demonstrably unable to fulfil the new roles.
Flanagan said: “Losing hundreds of years’ worth of experience by making people redundant and then recruiting 40 external staff while saying how critical Kew’s finances are just doesn’t make sense.
“We are urging Kew to let the new structure bed down before making any more redundancies,” she added.