The president of the National Library of Wales has warned further cuts in government funding could lead to staff losses and pension changes that could result in industrial action.
Wales Online reported “His comments came in response to an Assembly committee which raised concerns about how sustainable the library’s generous pension scheme was and a perceived lack of financial planning.
“If future funding were to decrease significantly then the focus of cost reductions would have to be made on the largest element of cost – staff pay,” library president Rhodri Glyn Thomas warned Assembly Members.
“Staff losses would have to be made at all levels but with higher losses likely at the lower grades, where there are greater numbers of staff. This would have a direct impact on public services as many of these staff are concerned with providing front-line services.”
Mr Thomas made the warning in a letter to the Public Accounts Committee.
The National Library in Aberystwyth is the biggest and primary research library in Wales and holds more than 6.5m books. It receives £9.6m grant funding from the Welsh Government each year and also draws in £700,000 in commercial funding.
The committee had recommended the library urgently review its pension scheme due to concerns about its sustainability given the current austerity and pressure on public funds. They also asked the library to set out how it would plan to respond to a decrease in funding.
Mr Thomas replied: “If the level of funding from Welsh Government fell substantively in the future the existing pension scheme would close and a new defined contributions scheme would replace it.”
The current defined benefits scheme promises a specific income in retirement based on an employee’s final salary. A defined contributions scheme has more risks as the amount paid in retirement isn’t assured.
“The employer’s cost would be considerably lower and the risks transferred to the membership. This would be a radical move that would be difficult to agree with the staff.
“The implications for them would be profound and would almost certainly result in damaging industrial action. However, the move would have to be a serious consideration.”
Mr Thomas was an Assembly Minister for Plaid Cymru from 1999 until 2016 and was Minister for Heritage from 2007 until 2008.
His letter added: “If Wales is to support a vibrant and efficient National Library service going forward there is an associated cost. The library has lost a third of its workforce since 2014.
“The library has been managing a declining level of grant from the Welsh Government for a period which predates the current period of austerity. In cash terms, it now receives the same amount as in 2006, a decrease of between 30% and 40% in real terms.”
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We are pleased to have been able to maintain the 3.5% revenue increase that was provided in the budget in 2017-18 for 2018-19 and 2019-20.
“This will help to provide some certainty for the National Library of Wales in setting their budgets.
“We would not wish comment on the impact of possible scenarios that might or might not face the National Library but we have regular discussions with them regarding funding” here.