Royal Opera House made more than 200 redundancies because of pandemic

The charity put aside almost £6m in payments to cover the cost of the process, its latest accounts show

The Royal Opera House (Photograph: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)
The Royal Opera House (Photograph: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The Royal Opera House charity set aside nearly £6m in termination and redundancy payments last year as it made 218 staff redundant as a result of the governments Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

According to the charity’s accounts for the year to 30 August 2020, the cost was part of a four-point recovery plan that included a cost-saving restructure and redundancy programme.

The ROH closed its doors in March 2020 because of the coronavirus outbreak and had to remain closed until May this year, apart from a limited number of socially distanced events in between lockdowns. 

A restructure was completed in December 2020 and the charity’s accounts for 2019/20 show £417,000 had already been paid out in termination in redundancy costs.

The charity’s accounts show £5.8m was accrued at the end of the 2019/20 financial year to meet redundancy costs for 218 employees, from its nearly 1,100-strong workforce.

The charity negotiated the job losses with three unions and said the restructure was regrettable, but it had no further plans to reduce staff numbers.

Total income in 2019/20 was down by about £14m on the previous year to £118m, while spending also fell by about £11m year on year to £127m.

Expenditure on charitable activities was reduced by about £12m to £108m. 

As part of the recovery plan the charity sold a David Hockney portrait from its holdings for £12.8m in October last year. 

The buyer of Hockney’s portrait of Sir David Webster (1971) was revealed to be David Ross, co-founder of Carphone Warehouse and a former chair of the charity’s board of trustees. 

Reports suggest Ross planned to return the work to the charity, but also intends to loan it to the 2023 reopening exhibition of London’s National Portrait Gallery, where he is still a trustee.

In a statement, the ROH said it had faced an enormous financial challenge to sustain its operations throughout the pandemic

Alex Beard, chief executive of the charity, said: "We conceived a four-point recovery plan, one leg of which, with huge regret and great sadness, involved a major organisation-wide restructure and redundancy programme to save costs. 

“The restructure was negotiated with our three trade unions over a six-month period. 

“The other legs of the plan involved asset sales including through consigning our Hockney to auction, government support through the Job Retention Scheme and Culture Recovery Fund, and through a major private sector Recovery fundraising campaign.”

He said he was delighted that former ROH chair Ross acquired the Hockney painting at auction 

“The impact of the pandemic on the ROH financially will be felt for many years to come, but through the determination and sacrifice of staff, the generosity of audiences and the support of government, alongside realising such value as we can from our assets, we can ensure a strong future ahead,” said Beard.

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