Botanics escapes cash axe and wins rise in funding

ONE of Scotland's leading visitor attractions has claimed victory after a high-profile campaign aimed at staving off threatened budget cuts.

The Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh has secured a rise in its annual grant from the Scottish Government just weeks after warning it was facing a 25 per cent cut in its funding.

Bosses had revealed plans to axe dozens of jobs, scale back conservation projects around the world and consider introducing admission charges for the first time at Britain's second-oldest botanic garden.

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But the cost-cutting measures have been shelved for the foreseeable future after the organisation was awarded a 600,000 increase in its grant, to 11.9 million, for the next financial year.

The Scottish Government's rural affairs and environment department said the extra funding would pay for research on international plant biodiversity which is being carried out by staff at the garden.

An update on the department's spending plans for 2011-12 states: "Although primarily directed at supporting international biodiversity policies, this research will complement work on Scottish biodiversity. Support for this international research will continue to be managed through the sponsorship funding arrangements for the RBGE."

The 340-year-old institution which runs the Botanics had warned that visits for school pupils and students, and the holding of art exhibitions were likely to be axed. Three satellite sites - Benmore in Argyll, Dawyck in the Borders, and Logan in Dumfries and Galloway - also faced being mothballed.

The funding increase for RBGE is in sharp contrast to the cuts of 4 per cent ordered by the government for the National Galleries of Scotland and National Museums of Scotland, which between them run many of the capital's flagship attractions.

Managers at the Botanics had drawn up the cost-cutting measures in a bid to retain as many of the workforce as possible amid fears that the loss of researchers, scientists and horticulturalists would damage its global reputation.

However, Professor Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper at the Botanics, said: "It's important to stress that we've only been given a draft budget figure for the next financial year. We don't know what will happen after that.

"However, we at least know that we are not going to have our funding cut next year, which is obviously very good news. We had not expected it to be effectively frozen, but we believe it shows how much importance the government places on the work that we are doing here.We very much see this as a vote of confidence.

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"It will obviously mean we will not have to put in place the measures that we had been looking at, when we thought we may have had to deal with a 25 per cent cut in funding over the next three years. The number of jobs we have here has been capped for some time, but we will not have to make the kind of job cuts we were looking at previously."

The attraction has been based at Inverleith since 1820, having started life as a "physic garden" for growing medicinal plants in Holyrood Park in 1670.

Visitor numbers have soared by about a third this year, to more than 600,000 since the opening of a flagship 16m visitor centre, the John Hope Gateway, last autumn.

The Scottish Government had previously spoken out against the prospect of admission charges being introduced at the Botanics, despite the idea being backed by its board of trustees.

Culture minister Fiona Hyslop has also told the national museums and galleries organisations she is against entry charges being introduced at their attractions.