CULTURE: Strike Will Force British Museum to Close for Day ; Exhibition Uncovers Secrets of Ancient Yemen, but Curators and Security Guards Vote for a Walkout over Plans to Shed Staff

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A STRIKE by staff at the British Museum in London will prevent it from opening as normal for the first time in living memory.

Curators, security guards and other staff are to stage a one-day walkout on Monday, 17 June after 85 per cent of those who voted backed strike action to protest at cutbacks of more than pounds 6m.

The strike means the museum will have to close because of concerns over health and safety and the protection of the treasures in its collections. The ballot was called by Prospect, which represents staff such as curators, and the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, representing warders and security staff.

The unions claim that the cuts will cause irreparable damage to the museum's invaluable collections and strip the country of leading specialists whose expertise is vital to the understanding and interpretation of the thousands of objects on display and in storage.

The museum's management had said it must make savings because of a predicted deficit of pounds 6.5m caused by a slump in the number of tourists after the foot-and-mouth outbreak and the events of 11 September, as well as the cumulative effects of a long-term decline in government grants.

The museum is estimated to have suffered a 30 per cent cut in real terms in state funding in the past decade. It also failed to share in handouts given to charging museums to pay for the abolition of entrance fees, because it had always abided by a free admissions policy.

The museum has announced plans to shed about 150 staff, stage fewer exhibitions and close galleries. More than 20 galleries have already had their opening times cut. …