A UNION has claimed that “opportunistic” National Trust for Scotland (NTS) bosses may be using the pandemic to replace staff with unpaid volunteers.

The suggestion is made in an email to members of Prospect Union. Seen by The National, it expresses “disappointment” that the heritage charity would not extend the consultation for its 400 planned redundancies and says the organisation “continues to drag its feet in sharing any of its recovery plans”.

The message goes on: “Many of you will have seen the photographs, or seen social media posts, about the large number of visitors at many NTS properties, such as Glencoe, Ben Lawers and Culzean, yet it seems that the NTS leadership team remain about the only people in Scotland who don’t believe there is a demand for domestic tourism.

“Even more worrying have been the posts from staff at the Trust highlighting the damage being done by some visitors to Scotland’s natural heritage, even when there are ranger services available to protect the sites. Yet, the ranger service is at the forefront of the proposed cuts in jobs, and we are genuinely concerned about the impact this will have as Scotland actively encourages people to ‘staycation’.

“Frankly, the Trust’s behaviour continues to both baffle and concern Prospect. Site staff remain furloughed whilst the NTS pays out money to contractors to undertake work which could be done by furloughed staff. All of this adds to our suspicion that the Trust leadership team are simply being opportunistic and using the current outbreak to massively reduce paid staff and replace them with volunteers. This is a move which will have devastating effects for both members and many communities which benefit from those paid workers.”

NTS says it must make deep cuts as a result of the unprecedented drop in income caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most properties remain shut and some, including Bannockburn visitor centre, will not open until 2022 according to re-opening plans, as revealed by The National in June.

The shortfall is projected to reach £28 million and the job cuts represent 57% of NTS staff. Employees have been told to prepare for meetings with bosses in the coming days.

NTS says it already agreed to a request by Prospect to extend formal consultation by one month to the end of July, and it is working to counter “false assertions and wishful thinking”. Chief executive Phil Long said he wants to save jobs, stating: “I can appreciate the Prospect Union’s concerns and understand their motivation for trying to extend formal consultation again.

But simply put, this is the worst crisis the Trust has ever faced and difficult decisions are inevitable and must be taken as soon as we can if we are to stave off an even worse crisis.

“For that reason our consultation was carried out on the basis that no external funding may be forthcoming and what then would be necessary to save the Trust – if external funding is forthcoming, it would certainly allow us to see the prospect of a faster recovery, but we cannot count on that.”

NTS has asked the Scottish Government for support. Long went on: “In a normal year, we contribute £266m to the Scottish economy, as well as the enjoyment and experiences our visitors and members derive from the places we care for. We look forward to working further with Scottish Government and hope that vital aid will be possible in support of the continuing existence of our charity, which plays such a fundamental role in caring for Scotland’s priceless heritage.”