Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by National Historic Ships (arts 110)


This submission covers the following key points:

● Further spending cuts to core costs of heritage bodies may result in the loss of their effective operational ability

● National Historic Ships welcomes the proposed changes in distribution of Lottery shares

● National Historic Ships suggests a review of Lottery funding policy in relation to the following areas – acquisition of heritage assets, increased project mentoring and grant-aid to private owners

● It is crucial that National Historic Ships continues to operate as an independent organisation, grant-aided by DCMS, to allow it to provide objective advice to government and other public bodies

● National Historic Ships costs only £257,000 per annum, of which some £50,000 is disbursed in grants and it has generated three times its annual costs in investment in historic ship projects


National Historic Ships, with its governing Advisory Committee, was established by DCMS in 2006 as the official source of advice to HM and the devolved Governments and other public bodies on funding priorities associated with ship preservation and maritime heritage in the UK. A key element of National Historic Ships’ remit is to hold, maintain and develop the Registers relating to UK historic vessels, which includes those on the National Historic Fleet – some 200 vessels of pre-eminent national significance which merit the highest priority in terms of conservation. In addition, National Historic Ships has taken the lead in promoting the regeneration of skills and facilities to support and maintain UK historic ships by developing associated training and educational opportunities. On behalf of National Historic Ships, I welcome the opportunity to comment on this inquiry into the funding of Arts and Heritage, looking particularly at the impact of centralised funding on the maritime heritage sector.

● Impact of recent and future spending cuts from central and local Government

As a DCMS-funded body, National Historic Ships was required to make a 3% cut in June 2010. This resulted in funding being withdrawn from the areas of: staffing including travel costs, consultancy and web development. Even this relatively small reduction had a considerable impact, bearing in mind that National Historic Ships has a UK-wide remit which involves a high level of travel, a small staff which relies on external consultants to carry out project work and an interactive website which is the prime method of communication with sector stakeholders. With a total annual budget of only £257,000, a reduction at any level will affect our activity, whilst further cuts will seriously curtail the organisation’s output or result in the loss of effective operational ability.

● Ways in which arts organisations can work more closely together to reduce duplication of effort and make economies of scale

The maritime heritage sector has suffered from fragmentation in the past, with no single recognised body in a position of authority to take the lead or prioritise historic vessel conservation. Since its establishment, National Historic Ships has become the official voice for historic vessels in the UK, working closely with the wide range of umbrella organisations, including museums, trusts and friends’ groups, which all represent maritime heritage in different forms. Close co-operation between groups of this kind reduces duplication of effort, with the lead organisation able to delegate tasks to the wider sector as appropriate. Setting up a hierarchy in this way is critical to ensure that multiple groups do not attempt to cover similar tasks without communicating fully with each other.

● What level of public subsidy is necessary and sustainable for the arts and heritage

National Historic Ships accepts that in the current climate it will be necessary to make certain reductions to public subsidy for arts and heritage as well as other sectors. However, the present arts and heritage budget is relatively small and cuts could have a disproportionate effect compared with the savings achieved. Arts and culture are central to tourism in the UK, with heritage making a significant impact on the national economy creating employment, leisure activities and a healthy society. The heritage sector is now looking at new ways to support government reductions through collaborative working and partnerships. Whilst some of the short-fall caused by further cuts may be recouped by private donations or successful funding applications, it is important that a level of core funding is retained to cover fundamental costs which can not be recovered elsewhere. It is our experience that private donors or funding bodies are more likely to support new initiatives, rather than ongoing running costs of existing services being delivered. National Historic Ships costs the tax payer only £257,000 per annum, of which some £50-£60,000 p.a. is disbursed in small grants. This year, we directly generated three times our costs in investment in historic ship projects, whilst raising monies for our own projects too.

In addition, there are some areas of the maritime heritage sector which will find it difficult to find subsidy elsewhere if funding is withdrawn. National Historic Ships currently manages a small grants scheme for owners of vessels on the National Register of Historic Vessels (NRHV) and has awarded over £250,000 via this initiative to date. Private owners are able to apply for this funding from National Historic Ships, provided their application demonstrates public benefit and this is one of the very few ways that private individuals can seek funding of this kind since they are not currently eligible for Lottery funding. Whilst National Historic Ships was able to work with the 3% cut received earlier this year, the operational budget is relatively small for the level of activity and this could not be sustained if more substantial cuts were made.

● The impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery Funds will have on arts and heritage organisations

National Historic Ships has responded to the DCMS consultation on the change in Lottery shares and welcomes the proposal to restore the shares of the National Lottery Distribution Fund which will see an estimated £50 million extra funding for heritage annually. Conserving, maintaining and opening the 1,000 historic vessels listed on the National Register of Historic Vessels for public benefit is very challenging. As primary advisor to the Heritage Lottery Fund on maritime bids, National Historic Ships is aware of the strong demands placed on the current HLF budget to meet the consistently high level of applications received. The Heritage Lottery Fund has now awarded over £100 million to some 165 projects involving historic ships and boats.

● Whether the policy guidelines for National Lottery funding need to be reviewed

The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) has made some highly significant interventions to save historic vessels, but its resources are over-stretched and there are many cases where the historic vessel projects do not meet NHMF criteria. Consideration should be given to seeing how Heritage Lottery funding can be utilised in certain circumstances to secure heritage assets, predicated on formal agreements to implement fully developed schemes later in the process delivering the public benefit which it is appropriate to demand.

It is essential that hard-won lottery monies are not squandered on nugatory overhead costs. At the same time care needs to be taken to ensure that HLF has the infrastructure required to control project expenditure. Monitoring and mentoring are crucial elements in managing historic vessel programmes and should not be seen as wasteful or dispensable administrative overheads. Historic vessels are amongst some of the most complex conservation projects which anyone can undertake, often demanding skills which need to be re-learnt and services which are very hard to find. There have been many historic vessel projects where greater levels of monitoring and mentoring, backed by higher up-front investment in survey and preparation works could have resulted in lower costs than experienced at final out turn. Similarly, higher allowances for contingencies, strictly controlled through project monitoring and only spent when clearly required, can actually save money over the life of the project rather than be an excessive cost. In order for everyone involved to understand that monitoring and mentoring are not central administrative overheads, financial provision for these could be made from within the grant award rather than allocated centrally as an administrative overhead. This would emphasise the crucial relationship of these to the project whilst leaving HLF in overall control on expenditure.

At least 50% of vessels on the National Register of Historic Vessels are in private ownership. As the rules presently stand, this makes them ineligible for Heritage Lottery funding. The National Historic Ships’ small grants scheme is one of the few sources of funding open to private owners and this is already massively oversubscribed. National Historic Ships recommends that Government consider opening up Lottery funding to private owners as an incentive to encourage high standards of conservation.

● The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm’s length bodies – in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the MLA

In a written statement issued on 26 July 2010, the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport (Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt) announced the de-classification of National Historic Ships with its functions to be transferred to another body. National Historic Ships has since been working closely with DCMS to explore the best way of continuing to maintain the level of services National Historic Ships provides to Government, HLF, other funding bodies and heritage organisations. It is important that National Historic Ships retains independent status so that we can continue to provide objective advice, rather than being merged into another body such as a Museum, which would not be able to give an expert overview on ship conservation and related skills.

The decision to abolish certain other arm’s length bodies will also have an impact on the future work of National Historic Ships. The Museum’s, Libraries & Archives Council (MLA) is currently home to the PRISM Fund which has awarded approximately £2.5 million to historic vessels since 1975. National Historic Ships is the recognised advisor to PRISM on all applications which relate to maritime heritage and is keen to ensure that the Fund continues to operate and support this sector.

The work of the Advisory Committee on Historic Wrecks is closely aligned to the management of the Registers by National Historic Ships. With the abolition of this body, it is important that English Heritage is properly supported if it is to take on the remit of this Committee. National Historic Ships has been working closely with English Heritage in the past year on common issues and could explore ways of collaborative working to ensure that the key services provided by the Advisory Committee on Historic Wrecks are not lost.


In the four years since its establishment, National Historic Ships has made a number of key achievements, demonstrating that it can provide value for money and operate successfully within the small budget set aside:

● Distributed some £250,000 in grants to historic vessel owners, funding sustainability works to our maritime heritage and the regeneration of key skills

● Intervened to prevent the destruction of significant elements of Britain’s maritime heritage, such as the clipper ship City of Adelaide, working with Government to find a conservation solution

● Found a secure home for vessels on the National Historic Fleet, such as World War 2 High Speed Launch 102 and Motor Gunboat 81 who are now part of the Portsmouth Naval Base Property Trust boat collection.

● Brokered an economic life for key historic vessels, resulting in signed contracts e.g. matching a French wine company with Kathleen & May, the only working topsail schooner in the UK, which led to 3 contracts to move wine in this ship between France, Ireland, and SW England.

● Launched the Shipshape Network, a national communications framework providing regional networks of skills and suppliers (including an online Directory of Skills and Services)

● Developed a number of training projects, including a £126,000 HLF-funded partnership project to develop training in ship conservation skills and national accreditation

● Published three guidance publications setting out best practice in vessel recording, conservation and deconstruction

In order to continue working on these and other initiatives it is vital that National Historic Ships receives the current minimal level of core funding from DCMS. With this in place, we will work to attract further funding for individual projects to ensure that Britain’s maritime heritage remains secure in this time of economic crisis.

September 2010