Swindon Council is considering cutting two key jobs crucial to making the town an attractive place and replacing them with a cultural czar who would look for more efficient delivery of services and exploit greater money making opportunities in the arts and heritage fields.
Swindonlink has been hearing rumours since mid-February that the council wants to get rid of the head of arts services and cut the position of heritage manager.
The two present post holders – head of arts Helen Miah and heritage manager Sarah Finch-Crisp, who has been keeper of Lydiard House for the last 23 years – would be invited to apply to become the newly created Director of Culture.
Above, reviewing lake restoration work in 2006, councillor Nick Martin, chair of the Lydiard Park Project Board, and Sarah Finch-Crisp, keeper of Lydiard House. Below, Lydiard House
When asked to comment, councillor Nick Martin, Swindon cabinet member for finance and resources and chairman of Lydiard Park Project Board, said he was aware that there had been discussion about ‘harmonisation’ of roles, but he was not involved in the specifics of council staffing.
But Bill Cotton, Swindon Council’s director of economic regeneration, confirmed that he was undertaking a review of the way arts and heritage are managed. “The proposal is to create a new head of culture and delete the positions of arts services manager and heritage manager. This would bring more efficiency and allow the borough to undertake more effective marketing of its provision, whilst looking for improved income generating opportunities.
“The council is committed to excellence in the delivery of arts and heritage to the people of Swindon; our customers are the most important people we serve.”
Behind the scenes arts and heritage groups, and also business leaders, have been lobbying the council, not to damage the achievements in both fields.
The Heritage Lottery is believed to have demanded explanations from the council as to why they propose to eliminate the Lydiard Park position.
Denys Hodson, member of Lydiard Park Project Board and chairman of Friends of Lydiard Park, said he is alarmed by the council’s plan to cut the position of keeper of the house and overall park manager. “We have heard of this staff restructuring and I am very concerned that this was not brought to the Lydiard Project Board for discussion; it devalues the contribution of the board to the redevelopment of Lydiard Park.
“The trustees of Friends of Lydiard Park have felt bound to make representation to the Heritage Lottery Fund as the council’s proposal seems to run contrary to the agreement upon which the lottery grant was given, to have an experienced manager on site.
“By common consent Lydiard Park is one of the jewels in Swindon’s crown. It can only remain so with the intensive and passionate management that takes into account both the delicate fabric of Lydiard House and the needs of the visiting public to the park.”
Above, the historic Van Linge window in Lydiard House, an example of the delicate artifacts that need correct heritage management experience
Mr Cotton’s plan is out for consultation amongst the staff directly involved and also the arts and heritage teams. Depending on the response to the rationalisation proposal, he hopes to make an announcement on the way forward by the end of April.