Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by Surrey County Council (arts 201)

1. Reduction in funding from local government may result in lack of support to small and medium sized museums that often hold important collections, are important to local communities and are increasingly important to tourism in small and medium sized towns. Loss of small and medium sized museums will lead to the permanent loss of items of heritage and culture, long-term loss of means of involvement of people in their local heritage, destruction of local partnerships and loss of skills built up over recent years. Any central funding review must take account of the needs of such museums, especially those run by local government. Such a review will also need to take into account the ongoing need to provide direct support and advice for local museums, e.g. through the provision of Museum Development Officers, in order to enable museums to run with either a very small staff or to be entirely volunteer run. Local museums, including local voluntary museums, represent excellent value for money, but they cannot provide an adequate service without the support of professionals who can give direct and specific advice. In association to this, there is an as yet unknown impact of recent changes to DCMS arm’s-length bodies – in particular the abolition the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA). It must be emphasised that it is essential to have a central staff who understand museum and heritage issues, who can take a strategic view and who will be able to drive the development of museums for all their aims including artefact preservation, public involvement and tourism. The abolition of the MLA places such central expertise in jeopardy.

2. Considering the example of the Woking Palace Project in Surrey, it is clear that a very small input of capital from central and local government sources – e.g. central government via the HLF and local government via the county, district or borough councils - together with thoughtful support provided by in-house local government heritage specialists, can have a very large positive impact on the local community. The Woking Palace Project: [a] responds to an identified and pressing need for specialist training, a need identified, moreover, by the community itself, and not imposed from above; [b] is a true partnership of different public, voluntary and private sector bodies, including local government, charities, universities and industry; [c] has successfully raised the public profile of an internationally significant historic site, helping the site's improved present and future management; [d] contributes to the 'knowledge economy' of the UK by providing new specialist archaeological data as part of wider research aims and agendas. Projects such as the Woking Palace Project are an exceptional example of the Prime Minister's plans for ‘Big Society’ at work, and should be considered a model for future such plans in the UK. In this light, it is worth bearing in mind just how many people already volunteer in heritage organisations: there are over 5000 heritage bodies in the UK and more than 400,000 people volunteer in heritage activities every year. Of these, archaeology alone contributes over 2000 community archaeology groups with over 200,000 members. Heritage Open Days are the biggest annual voluntary cultural event in England: in 2009 these attracted over 1 million people to over 4000 local events and sites, representing an in-kind contribution of time by volunteers to the cash value of £3.8 million. Surrey is a particularly good example of this at work at the local level. A series of voluntary sector groups, including (but not exclusive to) the Surrey Archaeological Society, Surrey History Trust, Surrey Historic Buildings Trust and Surrey Gardens Trust, have between them thousands of members of all ages, background and experience, working in partnership with one-another and local government to provide the equivalent of tens of thousands of pounds worth of time and expertise every year.

3. An estimated over £120 million is contributed to the UK economy each year through the heritage planning regulatory system under Planning Policy Statement 5: Planning for the Historic Environment (and it is estimated that there was a total of 6233 individuals in UK archaeological employment as of 1 April 2010 (Aitchison 2010: 1)). Over 90% of archaeological work undertaken in the UK is done so under these planning system terms, at little cost to central government (except in the provision of specialist advice and services via English Heritage) (and bearing in mind that the DCMS budget represents only 0.8% of total government spending: with only 4% of this budget (0.032% of total government spending) directly funding the heritage sector), and at equally little cost to local government (except through the provision of historic environment conservation/development control teams). The current system of investment in the historic environment via the planning system is an extremely cost-effective one that is the envy of many other countries. It is a very 'light touch' part of the regulatory system wherein minimal government involvement leads to a generally very high standard of work done on historic sites in advance of development. Moreover, since reformed by the introduction of PPS5 in March 2010 this system makes a commitment to local community and voluntary sector involvement precisely in line with current government priorities towards community/stakeholder involvement.

September 2010