Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by The Archives & Records Association (arts 190)

1. The Archives & Records Association is the professional and representation body for the archive and record keeping sector. It was formed in June 2010 after the merger of the Society of Archivists, the National Council on Archives and the Association of Chief Officers in Local Government. The Archives & Records Association is the professional body for archivists, maintains professional standards and accredits academic courses; advocates for the sector and administers the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archives; and provides a forum for users and special interest groups to coalesce around a single sector body, doing away with the plethora of smaller representation groups that used to exist.

2. Summary

· The effect of the recently announced cuts and abolition of arms length organisations not easily quantifiable and harder information will become more apparent after the CSR and once local authorities start to set and publish their budgets in the first quarter of 2011.

· The archive sector will suffer severely if cuts of up to 40% are uniformly applied due to the structure of the sector, the reliance on capital and resource funding to care for our collections and the small number of staff working across local authority archive services.

· The archive sector has very high levels of user satisfaction and is rated very highly by users in terms of the impact it has on wider agendas including citizenship, education and lifelong learning and stronger communities.

· The Archives & Records Association was formed in June 2010 and led the way in the sector in terms of creating a new streamlined structure for the archives sector by merging three different bodies into one. There is scope for further coordination between the groups representing the museums, libraries and archives sector without the need to create more bureaucracy or bury the sector within larger existing organisations.

· Funding structures and criteria should be changed to allow for fairer access to public money for the archive sector and to give a greater priority for the conservation of and access to our nation’s archival heritage

What impact recent, and future, spending cuts from central and local Government will have on the arts and heritage at a national and local level;

3. The recent announcements and the uncertainty of what will be contained in the CSR in the autumn makes it very difficult to give any accurate prediction about the impact of decisions which into effect on 1 April 2011, let alone on any longer time scale. As such all that can be done at this stage is to provide an idea of the levels of resource reduction that services are currently being asked to prepare for.

4. Particular to archive services (although not exclusively) is the increasing number of joint services, funded by a number of smaller authorities (usually unitary councils, sometimes with a two-tier county as a partner). These joint arrangements are particularly vulnerable at time of financial pressure, as the smaller councils will find it more difficult to make savings than larger ones and thus look to cultural and heritage budgets before their bigger neighbours. If joint arrangements come under increasing pressure and in many cases come to an end, this would be at odds with the government’s policy for archives, as set out in Archives for the 21st Century strategy, published in November 2009. The over-arching theme of the policy is to develop "bigger and better" archive services in partnership between local authorities and across domains with higher education institutions, to increase efficiencies and improve sustainability. It would be unfortunate if the current financial situation made it more difficult to reach this goal at the very time when greater efficiencies would be to the benefit of all local authorities and partner bodies.

5. Furthermore, most archive joint arrangements (usually formally sealed legal agreements) require the partner authorities to contribute relative to the size of their populations. Therefore, if one or more authorities seek to reduce their contribution, it is then open to all the others to reduce their contribution by a similar amount. Currently this "double whammy" is causing concern to many heads of archive services. One county archivist has noted that the unitary councils seem to have been affected more quickly than counties by spending reductions and so he is potentially facing much more severe reductions than library or museums services in his own authority, which do not operate on a joint basis.

6. The most severe set of potential reductions identified so far for an individual archive service over the next few years is a 40% reduction in a traditional two tier county council. To achieve this cut, staffing levels would have to be reduced by almost 50%, with the closure of one of the two service points and a four day opening at the other. Among posts to go would be the head of service. The reductions are proposed to come in at a single stroke next year, rather than phased and equally draconian reductions have been mooted for both library and museum services in the same authority. Few other archive services have been asked to plan for such sweeping reductions, with reductions of about 10% seemingly the norm.

7. The archive sector employs relatively few people for a direct public-facing service. The local authority archive sector employs 1,600 staff and benefits from a further 3,000 volunteers, who between them contribute some 230,000 hours every year (source: CIPFA statistics for UK local authority archive services).

8. A further effect of reductions in resources will be that even fewer archive services will be in a position to take advantage of external funding sources, such as HLF, as it will be ever more difficult to secure matched funding. Main stream capital funding is being squeezed, and at least one county service has lost an already agreed extension which would have provided additional storage for 20 years and improved document preservation facilities. Some high profile projects appear to be continuing, but overall it appears that in many areas plans to expand or improve overstretched or inadequate storage capacity, or developing facilities to deal with digital records, will have to be shelved for several years, or perhaps indefinitely.

9. Even where large scale cuts are not expected to decimate a service, the effect of any budget reductions will have an immediate effect on the ability of archive services to offer anything other than the core activities of storage and preservation. The scale of that task alone is daunting, with over 780,000 linear metres of archives to care for just within the UK local authority services. The other activities, often most appreciated by service users and indeed the local authorities themselves, such as education, outreach, one-to-one assistance for local and family history researchers and wider community engagement initiatives will very likely cease to continue.

10. The archive and record keeping community takes its responsibility in terms of and public service quality and customer satisfaction very seriously indeed. The annual Survey of Visitors to UK archives is commissioned by the Archives & Records Association and confirms the importance that users place in wider work of archives:

When asked 'How far do you agree archives contribute to society" by:

Providing opportunities for learning; 96% ticked 'strongly agree' or 'agree'

Preserving our culture and heritage: 99% ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’

Strengthening family and community identity: 86% ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’

Supporting administrative and business activity: 77% ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’

Supporting the rights of citizens: 69% ‘strongly agree’ or ‘agree’

Source: Survey of Visitors to UK Archives 2009

The impact of recent changes to DCMS arm’s-length bodies - in particular the abolition of the UK Film Council and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council;

11. Much like the question relating to the impact of spending reductions, there will be a time-lag before we are able to properly understand the effect of the abolition of the MLA on the archive sector. It is true that many services have benefited from the relatively small amounts of funding secured through the MLA, so it has been a good return on small funds. There is also the question about how Archives for the 21st Century will be implemented, with MLA ceasing to exist. Will it be left to The National Archives alone to work across government to implement a policy which touches on the responsibilities of not just DCMS, but the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Local Government and Communities, not to mention the Welsh Assembly Government?

12. Historically, the archive sector was made part of the old Resource organisation, the predecessor agency of the MLA. It was felt that with the creation of MLA that at last there was a "headline" mention of archives as a sector in the title of the new body, distinct from museums and libraries. MLA working at its best enables the archive sector to work both nationally and regionally by providing networking, the sharing and dissemination of best practice and integrates archives into a wider cultural and heritage strategy. With the abolition of the MLA, it is vitally important that new ways of providing this service is found.

13. The Archives & Records Association has had concerns relating to the lack of specialised knowledge and the absence of qualified archivists working for MLA, especially following the changes made to MLA’s structure in 2008. The Archives & Record Association has been working closely with the MLA and has a service level agreement in operation with the MLA and The National Archives, providing support for the archive sector in terms of advocacy, driving improvement in public sector service delivery and developing special projects such as improving the way the sector recruits, retains and develops volunteers.

14. The Archives & Records Association believes that a real opportunity exists to reassess the nature of the funding structures within the wider cultural and heritage sector. It would be a detrimental step to create larger, single NGOs or to give existing large bodies within the sector responsibility for policy and strategic support for too vast a collection of activities.

what arts organisations can do to work more closely together in order to reduce duplication of effort and to make economies of scale;

15. The Archives & Records Association has led the way in the museums, libraries and archives sector recently. The organisation has been created in order to streamline the professional, representation and coordination functions of the archives sector. This has been necessary to develop the capacity of the sector to communicate more effectively with partners and decision-makers at all levels of government.

16. Whilst efforts should be made to reduce duplication and take advantage of the benefits of economies of scale, the temptation to create monolithic organisations to artificially represent and advance the development of sectors as diverse as the built heritage, visual arts, creative industries, archives, records, libraries and museums, should be resisted. Instead, the culture of the wider cultural and heritage sector must respond to the challenge of both providing specialised knowledge and support for each cultural domain, but also to work more effectively together. One model that government should examine might involve separate, streamlined representation and development bodies, but also create new ways to ensure real cooperation and coordination. For example, in the museums, libraries and archives sectors, the existing bodies (the Archives & Records Association, the Museums Association and the Chartered Institute of Library & Information Professionals) could continue to do the work they do to improve public services, develop heritage and cultural policy and develop professional skills and, in addition, create a tripartite coordination group to ensure that duplication is minimised and the opportunities for collaboration are identified and exploited. Such a coordination group could be responsible for reporting back to DCMS and other sector funding groups, coordinate higher-level funding applications to bodies such as HLF and provide decision-makers with authoritative advice.

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

17. Archives are a capital and resource intense activity – the need for specialist and expensive buildings and plant, conservation and storage, display and transportation of items and the fact that almost all of the activities the sector undertakes depend on the primary resource (the archival items) that we preserve. The investment of public funds in archives is essential for the sustainability of our nation’s collections, maintain a true record of official decisions, safeguard and make records accessible to citizens in order to promote democratic participation. The return on this investment is not just the preservation of our archival history, but also the invaluable support that archives give to so many other cultural and heritage activities, not simply for the artistic elite, but for every community across the country.

Whether the current system, and structure, of funding distribution is the right one;

What impact recent changes to the distribution of National Lottery funds will have on arts and heritage organisations;

18. Whilst HLF has provided some much needed funding for the archives sector (some £175m to 601 projects over the past 16 years of HLF funding history), the ability of the sector to bid for funds has been hampered by qualification criteria, for example the lack of funding available to continue the important work of cataloguing our nation’s archival collections, a vital piece of work if public access and online engagement is to be extended. There are some examples of where even when archival projects were able to build up joint funding between local authorities and higher education institutions, HLF failed to provide funds despite criteria being met and positive reviews provided by HLF assessors. There is a perception of a low priority given to archives from HLF, in favour of visual arts and other cultural and arts activities.

19. Other funding structures have also discriminated against archives. For example, the MLA’s Renaissance funding stream was only intended for regional museums and archive services were excluded from the criteria. This form of "funding stream" means that even when a sector like archives can contribute to the aims and objectives of a funding body, the rules are exclusive and end up favouring one cultural activity over another. Such exclusivity should end and all sectors should be able to bid for funds based on whether they can help the funding body to reach wider aims and goals. Any proposals which give place public funds in the hands of one or two very large bodies to divide amongst smaller cultural sectors should take into account the mistakes of past funding structures.

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

20. We should make a strong case that the funds should be invested in activities with long term and lasting benefits, not ephemeral activities which have short term impact on a small number of people, for examples through investing in cataloguing and conservation, improvements in buildings and plant, rather than in conferences, the drafting of toolkits or one-off events. HLF should also be encouraged and empowered to fund repeat projects once a concept has been proved a success. For example, West Yorkshire Archive Service’s Tithe Map digitisation project was a roaring success and based on a successful concept initiated by Cheshire County Archives, which received HLF money. However, HLF funding was not available for the whole West Yorkshire area and so about a fifth of the maps have been completed, with local people disappointed that there is no chance of funding to do complete the work. Another example of HLF criteria needing change is its priority for historic buildings. Whilst archival projects are more likely to receive funds for projects which include the conservative of historic buildings, these structures often provide the least suitable accommodation for archival materials, are the most expensive to convert and least efficient to maintain.

Whether businesses and philanthropists can play a long-term role in funding arts at a national and local level;

21. Archive services are well placed to work with businesses to promote the value of archives and records. The Business Archives Strategy is being developed and implemented by the Archives & Records Association in partnership with The National; Archives, MLA and others. The Strategy places importance on the role of businesses in preserving and promoting their own archival holdings and how such materials can be used in core business activities, including marketing, product development and corporate social responsibility initiatives. The Strategy was launched in the Summer of 2008 at the House of Lords by the APG Archives, with the Governor of the Bank of England, Sir Stuart Rose and Dame Stella Rimington giving their endorsements to the project by speaking at the event. The opportunities for businesses to help bring more attention to the benefit of investing in good quality archive services are clear, but more work could possibly be done to enable commercial and philanthropic support for the wider archival community. Opportunities could include the potential of more sponsorship arrangements for businesses to support local exhibitions, family and local history projects.

Whether there need to be more Government incentives to encourage private donations.

22. The Goodison Report proposed that businesses should be able to offset the costs of maintaining their historical collections including records against tax, but thus far the Treasury has resisted the idea. In the view of the Archives & Records Association, this proposal is a good idea and would have the effect of either encouraging businesses to look after their records properly themselves, or make them more willing to fund the local authority or a higher education archive to look after their records.

September 2010