Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by RESCUE: the British Archaeological Trust (arts 183)

Introduction:

1. RESCUE is an entirely independent charity, which exists to promote and highlight the interests of archaeology and the historic environment within the United Kingdom. We have no links with any political party and are funded entirely by the subscriptions and donations of our members. It is with this remit in mind that we welcome the opportunity to respond to the Select Committee call for evidence on funding of the arts and heritage.

Summary:

2. RESCUE is concerned about future budget cuts undermining the ability of English Heritage and Local Authorities to continue to protect our heritage resource. It must be recognised that the non-statutory status of heritage services at local levels, and budget cuts to English Heritage over the course of the last Government, have already weakened the existing provisions significantly. Further cuts in these areas will cause irreparable damage and will undoubtedly result in the actual loss of archaeological sites, historic buildings and heritage landscapes. RESCUE is also concerned that the Government is intending to replace central funding with philanthropic and volunteer sector involvement, which we believe would be unacceptable. RESCUE strongly supports the Heritage Lottery Fund, and would urge the scheme to continue, but with a simplification of the processes involved in obtaining grants, and a greater emphasis on conservation projects. We believe that the museums sector requires strong representation at a Government level, and are concerned that the abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council will weaken this representation. We recommend that metal detectorists should be required to contribute to the conservation and maintenance of the objects that they recover, and suggest that current provisions for the archiving of archaeological material recovered through the planning process are wholly inadequate.

Response:

3. Budget cuts under the last Government have had a significantly detrimental impact on heritage protection regimes over the last few years. This ongoing real-terms reduction in English Heritage’s budget has resulted in the organisation withdrawing from its practical role in the management of the heritage resource, to a less useful strategic position. English Heritage now produces large amounts of written guidance papers that have no practical support, whereas previously the organisation acted as a centre of excellence for heritage professionals, and a national hub for advice. Expertise in archaeological science, artefact studies, planning advice and heritage management has all been whittled away in recent years and continues to be reduced, along with the valuable grant-giving functions which once provided measurable results in terms of heritage restoration, repair and rescue projects but are now virtually non-existent. The organisation continues to offer less and less of interest to the professional heritage community, and as a consequence, is at serious risk of losing its status and credibility within the sector.

4. Local Authority funding cuts have also been detrimental to heritage protection. The lack of statutory status for either Historic Environment Records, or Heritage Protection advice and management services at local levels clearly has resulted in these services being targeted during budget cuts. Non-statutory services are always viewed as "expendable" at a local authority level. The result of this is that no matter what policy Government produces regarding the operation of heritage protection regimes (the latest example being PPS5 – Planning and the Historic Environment), or whatever guidance is produced by English Heritage to facilitate the process, it is viewed as an optional exercise by Local Authorities, and targeted for reduction or removal when budgets are cut. Historic buildings and archaeological sites are diminished or lost as a result – either directly during the planning process or by stealth, with decisions regarding their future management taken by unskilled individuals. It is long overdue that Heritage Protection services should be afforded the same status as those accorded to the natural environment. The requirement for a simple change in the status of departmental resources at local levels would at least arrest the decline that has been ongoing for some years.

5. Future spending cuts need to be targeted carefully. RESCUE is under no illusion that additional spending cuts are coming – although taking into account the significant reduction in the budget for English Heritage under the last Government we would urge that any new programme should be proportionate, and should be undertaken with full awareness of the practical effects of the previous programme of cuts under the last administration. A further significant reduction in English Heritage’s budget will very likely rob the organisation of all but its responsibility as a landlord to a number of historic properties, which would be disastrous for the wider heritage resource and its future sustainability.

6. Heritage organisations are particularly adept at attracting and working with the voluntary sector, and this also should be borne in mind when considering the future. Without the core support of expert staff, and the comparatively small levels of project funding that they administer, the network of voluntary involvement and support for the Historic Environment will undoubtedly collapse. The Government has stated quite clearly that its intention is to encourage private donations and philanthropic involvement in a "Big Society" - yet it must be understood that without the initial resource of Government funds and support, it will be impossible to carry this policy through at a local level, and that it will fail as a result. We would urge the Government to adopt the measures we have outlined above, and to ensure that there is a viable and accessible grant budget – in addition to that provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund – that is available in support.

7. We cannot offer further advice beyond this regarding heritage funding and encouraging philanthropic participation. It is our firm opinion that the heritage of the country belongs to, and should be accessible to, everyone, and that therefore it is the responsibility of the Government to adequately maintain and resource the structures necessary to facilitate access and participation. It is clear that previous Governments have abdicated this responsibility in the hope that others would assume it, and whilst the present situation is difficult we would strongly urge this Government to reverse this trend. We do not believe that it is appropriate or viable to expect philanthropic involvement to sustain a satisfactory heritage programme for any length of time. Whilst such involvement is welcome, it should be viewed as a bonus, and never considered as a replacement policy position to full Government support.

8. With this in mind, we would like to champion the need for the continuation of the Heritage Lottery Fund. This fund has provided for countless projects in support of heritage initiatives, and should be lauded for the success that it has been. In the future, RESCUE would like to see a simplification in the processes involved in obtaining grants, as at present these can be extremely convoluted – even for relatively small amounts of money. We would also like to see a greater emphasis given to creative conservation projects, placing these on an equal footing with education and outreach initiatives, although in line with the principle expressed above, we believe that HLF initiatives and projects should be considered as supplementary to the requirements of heritage protection - which clearly should be a national policy issue and resourced at a national level.

9. One aspect of funding which concerns RESCUE, and which places a significant and unnecessary burden on museums’ funding comes in the allocation of awards for the discovery of artefacts that are declared as treasure. The discovery of small single objects is not so much at issue here, but where groups of artefacts or high status objects are recovered, the conservation, archiving and curation costs are a worrying burden on local museum services. This is compounded by the situation whereby the original finder is wholly rewarded for depositing this material, and assumes no responsibility for its future. We believe that there should be a process available to coroners whereby they can advise that some or all of the costs for the conservation of treasure objects can be deducted from the finders’ fee which is allocated upon the declaration of treasure. In this way, the real long term cost of recent discoveries such as the Staffordshire Saxon hoard, or the hoard of 52,000 Roman coins recently revealed in Somerset, would not simply be placed on the public sector by an individual who then walks away - potentially with millions of pounds of public money - without accepting that their discovery has ongoing financial implications for its preservation, curation and interpretation for the public body that acquires it. There is no central Government fund available for the conservation of objects discovered in this way, and until there is, we believe that it should be a shared responsibility between the finder and the state to ensure that such discoveries are properly cared for and presented for public appreciation, rather than becoming the state’s responsibility alone. We realise that such a policy might be an incentive for individuals not to report that they have discovered potential treasure – in the hope of achieving a higher value for it commercially. This would need to be investigated fully before any policy change – but a potential solution could be found in enhancements to the existing Portable Antiquities Scheme, and an end to the voluntary principle behind the reporting of discoveries. Compulsory and enforceable finds reporting procedures, with penalties for non-compliance would also ensure that the antiquities scheme would operate fully in accordance with the terms of the Valletta Convention.

10. RESCUE is unclear as to what the impact of the abolition of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council will be. It is without doubt the case that these organisations require representation at a Government level, and that the loss of the MLA will result in a loss of this representation. It is to be presumed that the functions of the MLA will be absorbed into another organisation, although this has not been made clear. Were this to be English Heritage, we would have real concerns that the provisions would be inadequate due to the previous budget cuts to that organisation, and its policy shift outlined above. It is also the case that the MLA has failed to provide the leadership and representation that the sector requires. For example, local and regional museums have suffered from poorly planned expenditure over the last ten years with the result that essential ‘backroom’ staff and facilities have been reduced to the extent that few can now effectively undertake one of their core activities, the storage and curation of archives from developer-funded excavation. Across the UK, museums have exhausted their storage space for archaeological material, with the result that new archaeological archives created through investigations initiated by the planning and development process, are unable to be deposited in the appropriate repositories. There is a very real likelihood that a number of museums will be compelled through lack of space to begin destroying archives in the very near future. This problem has been growing for a number of years – yet has been neither adequately highlighted nor addressed despite there having been a number of recent opportunities to do so. The whole issue of the future sustainability of the museums and archives bodies, with particular reference to a desperate need for significant increases in storage capacity, requires serious and urgent consideration as the problem is likely to worsen as the economy recovers and development projects (including housing) resume.

11. RESCUE would be pleased to offer examples to further support the points we have raised here, as for this response we have deliberately ensured the points are succinct and clear. Representatives of RESCUE would be able to appear in person before the Committee should that be desirable, to discuss these issues in more detail.

September 2010