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Unions call on culture secretary John Whittingdale to ‘step in and save ENO’

ENO's home at the London Coliseum. ENO's home at the London Coliseum. Photo: Andreas Praefcke
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Culture secretary John Whittingdale is being urged to back a campaign aimed at saving English National Opera.

Unions Equity, BECTU and the Musicians’ Union this week held a joint meeting in response to cuts being considered by the opera company, at which a motion was passed that urged Whittingdale and Arts Council England chief executive Darren Henley to show their support for retaining ENO as a full-time company.

It comes as chorus members from the opera company prepare to strike following proposed changes to their contracts.

The motion calls on members of the Performers’ Alliance All Party Parliamentary Group, which is a group of MPs and peers with an interest in there arts, to “use their good offices to call on John Whittingdale and Darren Henley to publicly support a negotiated settlement between the unions and management in order to save English National Opera as a full time company.”

Also at the meeting, the unions agreed to write a joint letter to the board of ENO.

BECTU official Pat Styles said: “We will explain that we expect them to fight for their company, and for the future of a full-time ENO, and we will be campaigning jointly with that intention.”

He added that if the board does not want to “save its own company” the unions would be calling on its members to “jog on and get somebody in who will”

“There is no excuse for the way they have been managing the place, as they are managing it into decline,” he added.

Earlier this week, ENO chief executive Cressida Pollock issued an update on the situation at ENO. She said a 30% cut from ACE meant the company had to save £5 million every year. Pollock added that this meant “taking difficult decisions about our future”.

She said that rather than programme autumn, spring and summer seasons, the company is proposing 10 operas in the Coliseum in two sub-seasons, with a programme of work to take place outside the Coliseum – mainly during the summer – by 2019/20.

“It also allows us to make more rental income from the theatre at a time of year when it is traditionally more difficult to sell seats to some opera productions – all that income will be re-invested in growing ENO,” she said.

Pollock said the changes meant ENO had asked some of the company, including the ENO chorus, “to move to seasonal contracts, reflecting the period for which they will be working”.

“We have recognised that this may well cause financial hardship for our staff, and we are striving to find additional work outside our core season for those most affected,” she added.

Earlier this week, The Stage revealed that ENO had also set a target to cut senior management pay at the company by 20%.

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