Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (80-99)



  80. Why did the developer not use private money if it is such a good project and raise the funds in the market?
  (Ms Alexander) My understanding is that on that one the grant was absolutely essential to make the project viable and it was not likely that a commercial loan would have been available.

  81. Coming to the danger of overlap, and I only put it in that sense because the report is somewhat reassuring about the realities, but there is a danger of overlap between yourselves, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council. How do you ensure that there is not any double funding? I know it says in both cases that the actual or potential involvement of the other party is taken into account, but is it taken into account up to 100 per cent of the value of the other party's contribution or how do you take it into account?
  (Ms Alexander) When looking at funding a deficit, which we call a conservation deficit, we will be looking at what funds we think are likely to be applicable to a project. Of course in relation to the Heritage Lottery Fund it may be that we are also involved in advising them on the benefits of a project, since we are one of their advisers. We would look at what other funds might be likely to be coming in and we would identify what deficit there was left for us to contribute.

  82. Is there ever a clash of interest? Since you are adviser to the Heritage Lottery Fund how do you manage to keep your judgments separate in relation to a lottery grant as compared with something on your mainline activity? Do you not have a vested interest? What I am getting at, I am not expressing very clearly, is actually a potentially incestuous situation where you get doubling up of funding by using your relationship with the Lottery Fund as well as your mainstream activity?
  (Ms Alexander) It is absolutely critical that we are not doubling up public funding, I do absolutely agree. I think that the report shows that our procedures ensure that does not happen. But the positive side of it is that we are both working towards solutions for some of the most difficult and intransigent buildings, and we do work together on that, rather than trying to draw a Chinese wall between us.

  83. Taking into account, say 40 per cent is the maximum, if it is something that will be 40 per cent grant qualifying and if the Lottery Fund comes along and grants the equivalent of 10 per cent of those costs, does that mean that you only give 30 per cent?
  (Ms Alexander) It does very much depend on individual projects, because their criteria for funding and the things that they will fund are quite different from ours. It is quite conceivable that we will fund at our normal rate the eligible repairs for a project but that there will be other elements of the project which the Heritage Lottery Fund or, indeed, one of the other lottery funds, will fund, which would be outwith our powers and perhaps outwith our priorities as well. It is more frequently the case that the funds are coming together in a partnership funding different bits of a specific project. Our priority now is very focused on high level structural repair work and the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Lottery Fund are much more able to fund new parts of a building and new facilities.

  84. Take the case with the businessman with whom you are going to share in the profits towards the end of this year, did he also get lottery funding or is it only funding from yourselves?
  (Ms Alexander) I do not believe he has any lottery funding in that grant. My understanding is no.

  85. Categorically?
  (Ms Alexander) Categorically, no. I hope I do not have to be corrected on that.

  Mr Williams: We will leave this one now I think.

Mr Leigh

  86. Paragraph 2.10. What were the properties that received no visitors?
  (Ms Alexander) We do not have that information from the NAO. I believe that their survey was anonymous.

  87. Do you have any surveys which you have done on your own, or any information which helps you to tell me what properties received no visitors?
  (Ms Alexander) No. We are very encouraged that 90 per cent of them received visitors, but we certainly do intend to include in our survey this year a question which will ensure that we know from 100 per cent what the numbers are.

  88. Do you not think that as the public are paying for this they might well feel aggrieved that they are paying for something that apparently no member of the public thinks is worth visiting?
  (Ms Alexander) One of the reasons why we felt the need to publish our own access list is because we want to make it much more clearly available and much more well known that these properties are available to visit. I suspect that may have a significant impact on the visiting numbers, particularly of the smaller properties who are not otherwise available to the public. Quite a large number of the properties are already open as visitor attractions with or without our grant.

  89. But why do you think some properties receive no visitors? Are they not advertised and people do not know about them?
  (Ms Alexander) All of the grant recipients were required to advertise until recently when we produced our list and we have taken over that ourselves as from last year. I think it is quite possible that they are very specialist properties. We are grant aiding a very wide range of properties from lighthouses to farm houses to barns to individual monuments, and some of those may not have great appeal. The purpose of our list and the purpose of making it accessible through the Internet is actually to give a little more publicity to them so that people are aware that this is an asset that they can take advantage of.

  90. Mr Young, are you worried about the fact that there appears to be a culture of English Heritage that what really matters is that we hold these buildings up, rather than the public who are paying for this visit them?
  (Mr Young) I do not think that is the impression that the report gives and I do not recognise that impression. I think the report rightly characterises English Heritage as being interested both in keeping the buildings up and widening access. They are actually at the forefront in the public sector certainly on putting stuff on the Web and encouraging, in an attractive way, visitors. This report itself says on page three; "It is an example of modern government", and on page one; "In publishing their own access guide they have taken control of a key access enabler." So actually they deserve, I think, a bit of praise for the way in which a list which hitherto has been kept in the dark—I do not know why—is now—

  91. You do not know why?
  (Mr Young) You are entitled to say that 10 years ago that attitude was around, and obviously I cannot comment.

  92. Why do you think that attitude was around?
  (Mr Young) I do not know that it was.

  93. Could it be that there is a view which suits English Heritage very much indeed that these admittedly wonderful properties are kept up, but the public just get in the way?
  (Mr Young) Luckily from my point of view that is not what the report says. The report praises English Heritage for the arrangements it is making to give public access to these properties. It also asserts that between 90 and 94 per cent of the properties they looked at were visited. I think it is a pretty good record.

  94. What are the properties you can visit by turning up without making any appointment at all? Can you give me some idea of what they are or how many there are where you can just turn up and ask to go in?
  (Ms Alexander) There are 149 properties of those that the NAO looked at where no appointment was required.

  95. That is out of how many?
  (Ms Alexander) Out of 317 that were looked at by their consultant.

  96. I must admit that I had a friend who used to enjoy this as a hobby, going around these homes, turning up, and most of the time he received a pretty unfriendly response to say the least. These people are in receipt of public money. Can I just refer you to paragraph 2.13: 27 required appointments to be made in writing. Some of them required appointments to be made up to a month in advance? This seems to be absurd. Should you not insist that if public money is involved just one very quick phone call the day before or even on the day is good enough? Why in writing?
  (Ms Alexander) I can certainly explain that, but I think it is very clear from the report that not—

  97. That was 2.15, sorry.
  (Ms Alexander) I have you on 2.15. Just under 2.15 in figure 7, over 90 per cent were able to arrange a visit in less than a month and over 50 per cent in less than a week.

  98. Of course they should, that is incredible, it should be 100 per cent.
  (Ms Alexander) These are for by appointment visits, and the reason why we allow by appointment visits is because the majority of these buildings are in day-to-day use, they are private homes or working farms, schools, nursing homes or working business premises. To say that people should be able to turn up whenever they like would not make a great deal of sense. If we were to say that that means that access should be limited to the low end of the range, maybe 28 days a year, it might be very much less possible to make a visit this week than it is for the 50 per cent of people who found it was possible on this survey. So we feel that there is good reason for having a by appointment visit when the circumstances demand, but we only allow that when the circumstances are such that that is likely to be both more convenient for the owner and for the visitor.

  99. This is where you say it is a working farm or a nursery or something like that?
  (Ms Alexander) Or a nursing home, an office, or a school. There are all sorts of properties. Nearly 80 per cent of the grants go to people who are not private owners, they are running businesses, they are using these properties day in and day out.

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