Kew has faced year-on-year cuts to its operating grant-in-aid funding from the government. In 1983 90% of Kew’s funding came from the UK government as grant in aid. That has now fallen to under 40%. Despite a temporary reversal of this year’s cut, Kew remains under threat.
Over 200 people attended the meeting, which was addressed by local MP Zac Goldsmith; John McDonnell MP; Leslie Manasseh, deputy general secretary; James Wong broadcaster and ethnobotanist; Kew reps Mala Tu and Marcella Corcoran and Megan Dobney from the SE regional TUC.
The audience of local residents, friends of Kew, concerned academics from the UK and overseas and volunteers heard the speakers describe Kew’s £5m funding gap this year as a drop in the ocean in comparison to the estimated £34bn lost to the exchequer in 2012-13 because business and individuals paid less tax than they should have done.
They urged government to step in and save Kew from a downward spiral of cuts and loss of expertise.
James Wong told the audience that anyone who loved Kew and admired its work should stop describing it as a visitor attraction and instead view it as it is – an invaluable scientific resource. Its scientific and research work was responsible for new medicines to fight viruses like Ebola as well as a world-leading role in biodiversity conservation.
All the speakers warned that Kew was losing its own specialist science staff to similar institutions in China, India and Brazil which seemed to understand the importance of the work undertaken by staff.
They also warned that the specialist scientific expertise built up over a many years was being destroyed by the cuts. Once lost this expertise was impossible to replace.
Leslie Manasseh said it was down to campaign supporters to spread the message about the plight of Kew through continued lobbying. He urged everyone to write to their MP, and encourage friends and family to do the same.
Zac Goldsmith told the audience a further shift towards commercial activity, and moving staff away from Kew’s core purpose would endanger its public interest work. He also urged concerned people to lobby local MPs. He said that three letters on a subject was enough to make any MP sit up and listen.
John McDonnell agreed but warned that there was not much time to save Kew because people were already leaving. He called for a mass lobby of parliament later in the year.
Speakers from the audience condemned Kew’s attitude and expressed their amazement that no one from Kew or any of its trustees had attended the meeting.
Baroness Tonge, who as Jenny Tonge was a local MP herself said the public meeting had convinced her to take up the cause in the House of Lords. She said she suspected that Lords and MPs just did not understand what Kew actually did and how important its work was.
Watch a video highlights of the public meeting here
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