Crescendo of demands for departure of Scottish Opera chief

Key points

• Scottish Opera chairman Duncan McGhie faces calls for resignation

• Unions and senior opera figures accuse management of financial failure

• Scottish Opera begins process of consultation to lay of staff

Key quote

"I have the absolute backing of the minister, the Executive and my board, and anyone else who is saying anything other is irrelevant" - Duncan McGhie, Scottish Opera chairman

Story in full PRESSURE was mounting last night for heads to roll at Scottish Opera, with senior sources suggesting the chairman, Duncan McGhie, should step down.

Mr McGhie yesterday slapped down rumours that his departure was imminent after the decision to cut 88 full-time jobs, nearly half the company’s staff, to ensure the Opera’s long-term survival.

But there were clear hints that Scottish Opera’s board may be turning restive - although it unanimously backed a business plan where the Opera board accepted a radical restructuring in return for 7 million in cash from the Scottish Executive.

"There is a feeling that Duncan McGhie should go," said one well-placed source. "I don’t think his departure would be very long delayed."

The unions representing Scottish Opera’s chorus and technical staff have already called for Mr McGhie to step down, along with the opera’s chief executive, Christopher Barron, and its music director, Sir Richard Armstrong.

They accuse the management of repeatedly failing to steer Scottish Opera out of financial trouble and running up a 4.5 million debt that forced first the Scottish Arts Council and then the Executive to step in.

Mr McGhie was appointed chairman of the board of Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet in November 1999. One of his first moves was to hire Mr Barron.

Nominally merged, the two companies have maintained largely separate operations. But part of the restructuring deal announced on Monday is that they will be fully independent of each other with separate boards. The two boards share several members and Mr McGhie is chairman of both.

The hunt for new board members is already under way, officials have confirmed. "People will be pleasantly surprised by the people willing to commit themselves to the Scottish Opera board," a Scottish Executive official said. "We have already started the moves."

The Opera is due to announce its forthcoming programme for next year’s season today, and will surely aim to put the best face on its future.

However, in June 2005, it will go "dark" for an entire season. This was seen yesterday as a convenient point of departure for Mr McGhie and possibly other members of the Opera’s management, although Mr Barron has insisted he will see the company through the current crisis.

Mr McGhie said: "My plans for my continued involvement were discussed with Frank McAveety, the culture minister, four months ago and that my planned exit from the board will take place at the appropriate time.

"It has become a full-time job. I have the absolute backing of the minister, the Executive and my board, and anyone else who is saying anything other is irrelevant."

Department managers at Scottish Opera were briefing staff yesterday in more detail over the planned job losses. Consultation talks will begin almost immediately and last a statutory 60 days, although they could be concluded before then.

The Opera has said it is aiming to keep a core administrative staff and the opera’s 53-strong orchestra. But it gave no such guarantee to the opera’s 35-member chorus.

When the announcement was made on Tuesday, an extremely emotional Mr McGhie defended it as the "best, biggest" deal the Opera could get from the Executive.

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