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Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con):
I applaud the Ministers enthusiasm for the scheme, which many of us feel very strongly about. I am delighted to hear the news and we have heard that things are going on in the background, but will she clarify a couple of matters? I understand that the transfer from the MLA to the British Museum may not happen until 2009-10, rather than this year, as had been anticipated. There is also a particular problem about the scheme issuing new three-year contracts to the 39 finance liaison officers, which it needs to do from 1
April, so it needs to have the security of the next three years, if it is to be run by the British Museum. Will she address that point? Also, in terms of it being right that there should be a review, will she acknowledge that the efficiencies in the scheme, which has produced, I think, a 73 per cent. increase in the finds recorded year on year, are absolutely phenomenal? In terms of bang for the taxpayers buck, this is an incredibly efficient scheme.
Margaret Hodge: May I deal with the first point first? The MLA, I and others have all stated that we want to secure the future of the scheme over this three-year period. The issue in question is the level of funding that goes with that. That must be subject to the review that is taking place to see whether there is an opportunity to eke out further efficiencies or different ways of doing things. Then it has to be subject to financial negotiations between the British Museum and the MLA. The agreement is there in principle, so on the assumption that the organisation does transfer to the British Museum, the British Museum may well be able to attract other resources for this purpose, with the freedoms that it has to raise finance externally.
I cannot in this Chamber today define the precise financial parameters of the budget in year 2 and year 3, because there will be a change. Were the organisation to stay with the MLA, that would be easier. Because there will be change, it has to be subject to the detailed negotiations for which we do not have responsibility, and then to any joy that Neil MacGregor has, if and when it transfers to the British Museum, in trying to raise additional resources. The MLA has been a much maligned partner in this endeavour over time. It recognises as much as everyone else how valued and valuable the scheme is, but it, too, must face financial constraints that we have imposed on it to ensure that we get best value for money from the resources available.
I know from discussions that I have had with both parent organisationsthe MLA and the British Museumthat there really is a will now to undertake the review together. It will be jointly commissioned, jointly led and jointly supervised, which is an important step forward. There is an agreement in principle for the transfer, but we have to leave it to them, subject to the review, to sort out the details of the funding.
I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying in effect that nothing is quite clear about the future of the portable antiquities scheme. People want
the scheme to be transferred from 1 April. The portable antiquities scheme needs to know its budgets for the three years. Will she clarify one point? She said that renaissance funds were ring-fenced, but is it not the case that if there is some form of synergy between renaissance and the portable antiquities scheme, some renaissance funds could be used to subsidise the portable antiquities scheme?
Margaret Hodge: The portable antiquities scheme is not under threat. Its future has been secured. I repeat that there is an agreement in principle for the scheme to be transferred to the British Museum. That must be subject, quite properly, to two things. The first is the review, which I think all hon. Members accept is a sensible way to go. Secondly, detailed
Margaret Hodge: No, I disagree with that. Every organisation that enjoys any benefits in the form of resources from the public purse should be consistently reviewing its processes and how it operates, and can, every year, eke out some savings. Having been involved in the running of organisations over many years, I think that that is possible. Then there will have to be detailed negotiations. The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of whether some of the renaissance moneys could be used for that. They could. We have to ensure that that does not in any way undermine the renaissance programme, and that is the responsibility of the MLA. We have to see what the review brings out and whether, when the organisation is transferred to the British Museum, that does not facilitate and open up the opportunity for attracting resources from other sources and therefore providing greater stability.