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Merger — Due to major financial problems the Natural History Museum of Denmark is to be merged with the Department of Biology and faces a round of layoffs. Staff representatives criticise management for not taking timely precautions. According to the Dean at the Faculty of Science, John Renner Hansen, it is only now that they have got the full overview of how bad things were with finances.
The Natural History Museum of Denmark (SNM) is to dismiss staff again, just two years after the last round of layoffs. This was revealed last week, when it was made public that the Natural History Museum of Denmark is to be merged with the Department of Biology this January.
The museum is to function as an independent unit under the department.
I don’t think that management has been timely in taking action
Tina Blumensaadt Brand, staff representative and laboratory technician at SNM
The purpose of the merger is to sort out the museum’s finances. For the last few years, the natural history museum has built up large losses and will need DKK 120 million in 2022 if there is no intervention.
The Natural History Museum of Denmark consists of the the Botanical Gardens, the Zoological Museum and the Geological Museum. In 2022, all the units are to be assembled in a prestigious building in the Botanical Gardens.
According to several sources which the University Post has spoken to, SNM has suffered losses since 2014.
29 positions were cut in 2016, and seven employees were fired as a part of the large round of cutbacks at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). Staff representatives criticise management for not taking timely precautions.
“There have been losses each year for many years, and these have only increased since 2014. I don’t think that management has been timely in taking action. There has been a turnover of staff, and our current director took over a real budget mess when he started in 2016. In the
She explains that employees have been waiting for the planned cuts for a year now.
I have been employed for nine years, and we have been calling on them about this since 2014
This is backed up by Kristian Bjergbakke, who is finance consultant and staff representative. According to him, there are several reasons for the large losses at the Natural History Museum.
“There has been a replacement of key managers on several occasions. And the new managers have set things in motion which have been underfunded or that they thought would generate a surplus. I have been employed for nine years, and we have been calling on them about this since 2014.”
Dean of the Faculty of Science, John Renner Hansen, is financially responsible for the Natural History Museum of Denmark. He cannot say at this time how many jobs are to be cut at SNM.
In April 2017 Renner said to the Politiken news site that there was no reason for concern about the finances. “Things seem reasonable,” he stated at the time.
But over the past eighteen months, the museum’s finances have, according to the staff representatives only gotten worse.
It has not been possible to reach John Renner Hansen for a comment, but he responds to the criticism of the staff representatives by email:
“I can understand the frustration about the situation, but the finances of the Natural History Museum of Denmark have been very complex with a combination of museum finances and research finances, which we have spent a lot of time working out. This is something that the staff representatives have been aware of all the time. We have now got the overview that is necessary, which means that we can adjust finances so expenses and revenues can be brought into balance in the future. We have a problem that is deeply rooted in the past, a long time before the current management was appointed, and which comes from the way the museum has previously been organised. That is what we are now rectifying.”
The comprehensive analysis of the finances shows that we did not have a sufficient overview back then. We do now, and that’s why we are taking action
Dean John Renner Hansen, Faculty of Science
What are the main causes of the large losses at SNM?
“The museum’s financial losses have two causes: Museum operations are under-funded, and the research financing has not been sustainable in its current form. No grants to researchers at the Faculty of Science are fully financed from private and public foundations. For SNM this means that there has been a significant drag on the SNM department basic grant as there, unlike other departments, is no teaching income to draw on for, say, salary costs.”
What has management done on an ongoing basis to limit the losses?
“The management at the faculty and at the museum have meetings every quarter to discuss finances. It was based on these meetings that it became clear that it was necessary to go through a thorough financial analysis to get an overview over where the losses occur. It has taken a long time, because the financing is complex with a combination of museum financing and research financing. We have now got the necessary overview so we can adjust finances, so that expenses and revenues can be brought into balance in the future.
29 positions were cut back and seven staff were dismissed in 2016. Did you fire too few staff then?
“We dismissed the number of employees which we at the time thought was an appropriate number based on our knowledge of the museum finances. The comprehensive analysis of the finances shows that we did not have a sufficient overview back then. We do now, and that’s why we are taking action. This is necessary in order to come to grips with the structural deficits, and at the same time ensure that the researchers continue their work in a solid academic environment, and that the museum can retain its collections and continue to offer fantastic exhibitions.”
In April 2017 you stated to Politiken that you did not believe that there were any grounds for concern over the SNM finances, and that it in ‘was looking good in the future’. Was this assessment correct?
“At the time we did not have the full overview over the museum’s finances, but a subsequent in-depth economic analysis of the museum’s finances showed that the museum operations and the research operations had been mixed together. This has made it difficult to get a true and fair view of the financial situation of the museum’s operation. By separating the two finances, we can now see that there is a loss in both areas. The museum’s researchers have been involved in this financial assessment, and we have reached agreement on the results that the investigation has led to.”
According to the management, the layoffs will take place on the 14th December. John Renner Hansen explained last week that the Department of Biology will not be financially affected by the merger – only the natural history museum.