English Heritage staff are to strike over pay - a move that will delay planning decisions and provide a tough baptism for incoming boss Simon Thurley.
Staff at English Heritage voted overwhelmingly to strike after a simmering pay dispute with EH management boiled over. A spokesperson for the Prospect union told the AJ that 77 per cent voted to strike while 90 per cent backed some form of industrial action. The union has warned that the series of strikes will affect all areas of EH's work including planning, requests for listed building consent and prominent tourist attractions.
The union originally opted for a one-day strike on 11 March, but this was extended following a strategy meeting last Friday. The first action will be from 8-11 March, then 2 April - the day incoming EH boss Thurley is expected to start - with a final two strike days on 6-7 May.Also, staff will not work beyond their contracted hours.
A spokesperson for Greenwich Council's planning department told the AJ: 'We will simply have to put decisions on hold. There's not much else we can do.' Head of planning at Westminster Carl Powell commented: 'It will impact our decisionmaking process and slow consultation on certain projects. Every local authority planning department will be impacted in some way.'
The dispute spiralled out of control after the union rejected EH's pay offer of 3.5 per cent. The heritage body then refused to go to arbitration and imposed the pay award - stating that it was all it could afford. However, staff were incensed to discover that EH intends to use £500,000 of the payroll budget for advertising.
Prospect claims that EH staff wages lag behind mainstream Civil Service pay by 10 per cent.
Negotiating officer Steve Jary told the AJ: 'Staff are hacked off. People are energised by this dispute.
Their patience has been exhausted and they won't be happy until they see the colour of EH's money.'
He said morale in the organisation was very low: 'Many are committed to the work but not EH.
It has taken on extra responsibilities from the government but is not willing to invest in staff - a senior architect at EH only earns about £30,000.'
An EH spokesperson said: 'In a financially challenging year this was the most we could afford. It is significantly above inflation and comparable with settlements in the wider public sector.'
Director of the 20th Century Society Kenneth Powell added that EH was in a precarious position. 'It got hit financially by the foot and mouth crisis and now it is in the midst of its [DCMS] review it does not want to be seen to be giving away huge pay rises - the government may look at that and decide it's got too much money.'
A spokesperson for the DCMS told the AJ that if EH failed to meet targets set by the department it would step in. 'We are very hands-off with EH.
We want to leave areas such as budgets to them and we expect them to manage their own house.'