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The Musicians' Union says its members have been informed that English National Opera wants to axe 19 jobs from its orchestra and employ its remaining musicians on part-time contracts.

Exterior of English National Opera

TkKurikawa via iStock

English National Opera is making a series of cuts to its orchestra to balance the books as it struggles with reduced public funding and rising costs, it has emerged.

The Musicians' Union said its members were informed yesterday (12 October) that ENO intends to cut a total of 19 jobs from its orchestra, with those that remain being placed on part-time contracts.

According to the ENO website, there are 51 listed members of the orchestra, meaning that its total size would reduce by more than a third. 


The Musicians' Union said it plans to reject the proposals and fight to keep its members at ENO in full-time jobs on full-time pay.

The union said it understands the proposals, which it believes have been discussed with Arts Council England, result from decreased funding and other financial challenges.

In November 2022, ACE decided to remove ENO from the National Portfolio, offering it £17m over three years to relocate outside London.

Subsequently, ACE has agreed on a funding package of £11.46m for 2023/24, with a further £12m set aside for 2024/25 and 2025/26 once it relocates.

This would bring ENO's total funding for the 2023-26 period to £35.46m, or £11.82m a year, close to the £12.38m a year it received as part of the National Portfolio for 2018-22.


MU National Organiser for Orchestras Jo Laverty said: "ENO management were clear that it was the support and campaigning of the unions that helped them achieve their improved ACE funding settlement. 

"To now be faced with these proposed cuts to our members' jobs is devastating and we can't accept what's on the table. 

"We weren't naive to the likelihood of changes, but the extent of these proposals will send shockwaves through the music community and ENO's audience.

"The Government and Arts Council England have put ENO in an impossible situation, and rather than 'levelling up', we're seeing arts organisations cut performances and creative output. It's a dire situation and extremely bleak for our affected members.

"We urge the ENO to reconsider these proposals and call upon the Government and Arts Council England to take urgent action in support of the company. 

"Our members in the orchestra of ENO do not deserve to be treated in this way, especially given the quality and breadth of their recent work. The Union will fight hard to secure a brighter future for them."

'Difficult process'

An ENO spokesperson said that while it was grateful for ACE's revised support and financial investment and remains committed to creating opera for more people nationally, the money it will receive represents a reduction in income against a backdrop of inflation, rising fixed costs and a requirement to develop work across more locations.

"Sadly, this means that whilst we are no longer facing mass permanent redundancies, we are having to reevaluate our employment levels across every part of the organisation. 

"As we start this difficult process with staff, we believe we have presented viable options that aim to ensure a sustainable future for the ENO whilst supporting our artistic and musical heart as much as possible. 

"We will do everything possible to support our employees throughout this very challenging and stressful time and continue our conversations with them and their representative Unions in good faith."

Earlier this week, it emerged that the government body overseeing UK companies moved to dissolve English National ENO because its accounts were overdue - an action that was "discontinued" the following day.

ENO has said its accounts are now being audited and "should be filed shortly".