Kew campaigners seek meeting with environment secretary

Kew campaigners seek urgent meeting with environment secretary

Prospect has written to Owen Paterson, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs seeking an urgent meeting on the impact of funding cuts on Kew Gardens and Wakehurst Place.

The union said it was incongruous that the Department for Business, Innovation and Science is investing over £1 billion in life sciences, yet one of the UK’s pre-eminent life science institutions is being irrevocably compromised by short-sighted cuts.

In the letter to Paterson, Prospect called for:

  • additional interim funding for Kew
  • an assurance that Defra is opposed to Kew making any compulsory redundancies
  • a review of Kew’s funding arrangements to ensure long term clarity and security.

The letter explains why Kew needs sustained and predictable funding so that it can manage its resources efficiently and effectively.

Protecting global diversity

Kew is a world leader in the areas of botanical science, conservation and horticulture and has ensured that the UK has led botanical research around the world for over 250 years.

Kew’s work underpins the understanding and protection of global biodiversity and the UK's international commitments in this regard.

Its reputation as a world-renowned centre of excellence in the life sciences will be damaged by cuts which increasingly become unsustainable.

Job cuts

Two recent voluntary exit schemes have reduced Kew’s full-time equivalent level of staff by around 50 posts, vacancies are not being filled, and a further 50-70 posts need to be cut to balance Kew’s 2014/15 budget.


The future looks bleak for Kew and its staff. Kew’s self-generated income is volatile and subject to the weather and visitor numbers. The lack of reliability of predicted funding levels make long term financial planning practically impossible.

When Kew was set up as a non-departmental public body in 1983, it received 90% of its funding as grant-in-aid from government.

Kew has suffered year on year reductions in its operating grant-in-aid from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, leading to increasing pressure to generate commercial and philanthropic funding.

Total grant-in-aid now accounts for just 40-50% of Kew’s total funding and has contributed to an increasingly large operating budget deficit.

Despite Kew’s efforts to address the budget shortfall by increasing self-generated income (for instance admission fees, donations, sponsorships, retail, commercial and research funding), the budget shortfall has now reached such a level that Kew has no choice other than to cut staff and the scale and scope of its operations.

Recent increases to admission prices to the Gardens in West London and the newly implemented parking charges at Wakehurst Place have been introduced to help Kew increase revenue.

However, Prospect believes that making the public subsidise Kew in order to visit its collections goes against the spirit of the National Heritage Act 1983 which designates Kew as holding “national reference collections” and that the public should have access to the collections “for the purpose of gaining knowledge and enjoyment”.

The Kew Foundation has drained reserves during the recent period in an effort to plug the gap caused by Defra operating funding cuts.

We believe that funding provided by the Foundation should be additional to that provided by grant-in-aid, and not a replacement for it. 

Further government cuts will diminish Kew’s capacity to generate its own revenue, and cause Kew’s focus to shift away from its core purposes towards commercial activity.

The petition, calling for the cuts to be urgently reversed, has reached over 100,000 signatures and continues to grow in number.

“While we have been greatly heartened by the global support shown to Kew, it is essential that the government responds to the concerns raised and restores funding to a level which covers the £5m deficit and avoids further damaging staff losses” the letter concluded.