Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport First Special Report

Appendix 1 - Reply from the Government

We were dismayed by the time DCMS's process for consultation has taken to reach what is a relatively timid conclusion : that the existing and commendable efforts of the National Historic Ships Committee were properly the responsibility of DCMS and that the NHSC's achievements merited formal support, structure and resources. We would be extremely disappointed if the Government's solution for what it has described, rightly, as the "plight" of historic ships preservation, was effectively, with a very small actual investment, to adopt and re-brand the NHSC as the advisory body for a tiny executive "Unit" which may or may not be able to add value to existing provision. (paragraph 20)

The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of its decision to establish a National Historic Ships Unit. The Government is grateful for the valuable work of the National Historic Ships Committee and wishes to make clear that the National Historic Ships Unit is an entirely new entity. The Unit itself will be an advisory body, whose members will be appointed through the transparent and formal procedures established by the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and which will, among other functions advise the funding partners on priorities. The performance of the new Unit will be assessed to ensure that it continues to add value.

We welcome the Government's commitment to establish the new Ships Unit, which is a step in the right direction, but we lament the time it has taken to set this up. We support the general aims of the Unit, as described by DCMS, and we hope it will indeed become the country's historic ships champion; the national centre for excellence, advice and co-ordination; and disseminator of best practice for the sector. However, we are not persuaded that the funding, announced by Lord McIntosh, is adequate to meet these objectives. Its budget is paltry and staffing, however expert, minimal. (paragraph 24)

The Government welcomes the Committee's endorsement of its decision, in the year of Sea Britain 2005, to establish a National Historic Ships Unit and is grateful for the Committee's support for the general aims of the Unit. The Government is pleased that following the 2004 Spending Review it has been able to make the necessary funds available to support this advisory body. However, the Government does not accept that the budget of the Unit is paltry. The Government took advice from the National Maritime Museum before determining the level of funding and believes that the funds are adequate for the purposes of the Unit. The Government will ensure that the funding of the Unit is kept under review to reflect the changing demands that may be placed upon it. However, the Unit must be lean and fit for its purpose. The Unit will not be a grant-giving body and the Government has no wish to create a bureaucracy that is larger than it needs to be to deliver the service required of it.

Aside from its rather narrowly drawn objectives, we believe that the Ships Unit's pre-eminent goal must be to save more of the nation's key historic vessels in such a way as to preserve the story of Britain's maritime history and achievements. Unfortunately, we are not convinced that the Unit can prove effective in this respect. (paragraph 25)

The Government agrees with the Committee that it is important that the story of Britain's maritime history and achievements is well told. To tell this story may require the preservation of some historic vessels in full but it will also be an essential part of the Unit's functions to determine where the use of other approaches is likely to be more cost-effective. These might, for example, include the use of models, drawings and plans, photographs, and computer-based animations. The Government expects the Unit to take a practical and cost-focused approach to its role. Good leadership will be essential and the Government will keep the role and performance of the Unit under review.

We recommend that the Unit takes into account the views of the whole maritime sector. The established museums and those with responsibility for the more well-known ships must not exercise influence over the Unit at the expense of others. (paragraph 26)

The Government wishes to assure the Committee that the National Historic Ships Unit will be an independent body accountable to DCMS. The advisory panel will comprise experts and advisors drawn from the historic ships, heritage management, commercial and industrial sectors. It will be for the Unit to take into account the views expressed to it by all relevant parties. The established museums and galleries have a number of historic ships in their collections. They also have an important role to play in telling Britain's maritime story. The Government sees historic vessels as complementary to that role.

The criteria for placing a ship on the Register must also be kept under constant review. Appearance in the Register must never, alone, be reason enough for a ship to attract funding; non-appearance too, must never sound a ship's death knell. (paragraph 27)

The Government's expectation is that the Unit and the funding bodies that it will advise, especially the Heritage Lottery Fund that has already done so much to support historic vessels, will wish to look at each case on its merits but the priorities for funding must be clearly established. The Government's view is that if the National Register of Historic Vessels is to be a useful tool the inclusion of a vessel on the Register should imply some kind of priority.

It should not be left to this Committee to identify ships which could be placed on the Register nor those that are in need of restoration of financial support. However, a case in point is HMS Stalker which, as an example of a "landing ship, tank" vessel of the type used in the D-Day landings and as the last survivor of her type and class in UK waters, has a prima facie case for inclusion. We recommend that the new Ships Unit, as soon as it is established, considers carefully the case for HMS Stalker being included in the Register. We also recommend that HLF pays due attention to HMS Stalker and her like in deciding to whom grants should be made. (paragraph 28)

The Government will draw the Committee's recommendation to the attention of the Historic Ships Unit.

The Government pays lip service to the value of historic vessels as part of the UK's cultural heritage and yet is unable to produce what the sector desperately needs above all else - adequate funding. (paragraph 33)

The Government does not accept the Committee's view that it does no more than pay lip service to the value of historic vessels. The Government has made clear that, where Historic Ships are not already part of the collection of a Government-sponsored National Museum funding is through the Heritage Lottery Fund. The Government applauds the contributions and support of the Heritage Lottery Fund which has already committed many £millions to the successful preservation of historic vessels. But the Government also wishes to emphasise to the Committee that, as it has said in its memorandum, the scale of preservation undertaken will have to be related realistically to the resources likely to be available. Careful prioritisation of resources will be essential and the new Unit will have an important role in advising on that, although it will not itself be a grant-giving body.

We recommend that a further allocation of grant-in-aid be provided to the Ships Unit to enable them, in turn, to give small grants to less well known, but by no means less deserving, ships. We recommend the Government reconsiders its position and looks seriously at direct public funding of some of the ships in the Core Collection; we see no reason why, simply because a vessel is not located within a funded museum it should not be considered worthy of government resources. This would take the pressure off bodies like the HLF who could then concentrate on a greater variety and number of ships rather than the few who, up to now, have swallowed the lion's share of the sector's HLF grants. (paragraph 34)

Among the key purposes of the new Unit are to provide the primary source of advice to the Government on policy on national ship preservation and on funding priorities and to advise the HLF on preservation priorities and individual funding bids for historic ships made to the HLF and to advise other public funding bodies. This does not preclude advice on any vessel, including those that are smaller or less well known. From April 2006 the Government is providing for a small grants scheme which will support publications, research, training and similar activities, including preliminary studies into methods and effectiveness of conservation techniques. This will be administered by DCMS, with advice from the Unit. But, as the Government has consistently made clear, it does not, itself, provide funds for major ship projects. The Government has no plans to get involved in the direct funding of historic vessels except where they are part of the collection of a Government-sponsored museum. However the Government will give careful and serious consideration to the advice of the Unit and to the views of the Heritage Lottery Fund and any other potential funding bodies.

We recommend that the Ships Unit, working alongside DCMS, issues guidelines which set out effective fundraising strategies; suggest innovative funding methods; and advises on proven efficiency savings for the sector. (paragraph 36)

The Government welcomes this recommendation and will ensure that it is reflected in the Unit's terms of reference. It is also essential that the Unit gives clear advice on the type of preservation that will be most appropriate and on the priorities for preservation. There may be many cases where the best solution does not entail the physical preservation of a vessel itself but, rather, the creation of a photographic, model or virtual record.

We recommend that DCMS urgently discusses this problem of VAT payable by voluntary organisations with HM Treasury and reports back to this Committee with its findings. (paragraph 38)

This issue of VAT was raised specifically by the Cutty Sark Trust. As VAT is the policy responsibility of HM Customs and Excise we have discussed this matter with them.

In the pre-Budget Report 2003 the Chancellor announced that many cultural attractions such as theatres, galleries, zoos and museums will no longer be required to charge VAT on visitor admissions (the cultural exemption), giving many attractions scope to reduce their admission charges.

It was recognised at the time that exempt attractions would no longer be able to reclaim VAT on construction costs and that this would give rise to difficulties for bodies with major building projects in progress. A transitional relief scheme was therefore devised. The criteria for admission to the scheme are that construction has been contracted prior to 10 December 2003, or grant funding was approved prior to 10 December 2003; or there is documentary evidence to show that negotiations for the project were at an advanced stage prior to 10 December 2003 and construction work has commenced as at 1 June 2004. The Cutty Sark Trust is unable to satisfy these criteria.

We have asked Customs and Excise whether an exception could be made. They have explained that, while they strongly support the work of the Cutty Sark Trust they are not able to make an exception. They have said that altering the "in progress at 1 June 2004" criteria to accommodate a good cause cannot be an option from a VAT perspective and could bring UK into conflict with its EU partners.

We have explained the position to the Cutty Sark Trust which will now consider the options.

We note the beneficial effect that maritime heritage projects can have on a local economy and we therefore recommend that regional development agencies and local authorities look to play a greater role in supporting historic ships for their wider regeneration potential. DCMS and the new Ships Unit should investigate the possibility of developing regeneration partnerships around maritime projects. (paragraph 40)

The Government recognises that Museums and cultural projects can play a significant role in regeneration. The Historic Ships Unit, as an advisory body, will be able to reinforce this message but the essential planning and delivery of regeneration is for the relevant local authorities and regional agencies.

We recommend that the Ships Unit considers the issue of disappearing skills with a view to providing practical recommendations to alleviate the problem. Consideration could, for example, be given to the establishment of a permanent department of further education at Greenwich or elsewhere, which focuses on maritime heritage as well as NVQs in the relevant areas. (paragraph 42)

The Government expects that the Unit will wish to seek ways of improving the availability and standard of ship and boat conservation skills and training.

We have highlighted a number of key issues which we recommend should be the responsibility of the new Ships Unit. The scope and breadth of the recommendations demonstrates the need for a properly resourced Ships Unit. (paragraph 43)

The Government is grateful for the Committee' recommendations. The Government will ensure that the National Historic Ships Unit is lean and fit, that it is funded properly to carry out its functions and that its funding is kept under review.

7 April 2005

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2005
Prepared 20 July 2005