Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report


Notes of the post-publication seminar held at the House of Lords, 23 November 2006

The participants were: Baroness Sharp of Guildford (Chairman), Lord Broers, Lord Chorley, Lord Redesdale, Professor May Cassar (Specialist Adviser), Christopher Johnson (Clerk), Cathleen Schulte (Committee Specialist), Chris Batt (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council), Nancy Bell (National Archives), Leslie Carlyle (Tate), Ben Cowell (DCMS), Michael Dixon (Natural History Museum), Edward Impey (Director of Research, English Heritage), Tony McEnery (Arts and Humanities Research Council), David Leigh (Institute of Conservation), Eric May (University of Portsmouth), Mark Pollard (Oxford University), Nick Poole (Museums Documentation Association), David Saunders (British Museum), Helen Shenton (British Library), Sarah Staniforth (National Trust), Jim Tate (National Museums of Scotland) and Heather Viles (Oxford University).

Baroness Sharp of Guildford introduced the report and summarised the main findings, before inviting comments.

The report was welcomed by all participants, some of whom expressed the hope that it would prove to be a turning point for the heritage sector. In particular there was broad consensus on the following:

  • The principles of sustainability should be applied in the heritage sector, and the desire to widen public access could not be dissociated from the need to conserve our cultural heritage. The IIC would host a conference on access and conservation in London in September 2008.
  • There should be a national strategy, or linked strategies with co-ordinated priorities, for heritage science, bringing together what was currently a fragmented field.
  • The Research Councils should seek to establish a baseline for funding of heritage science.
  • DCMS should appoint a physical or natural scientist to act as Chief Scientific Adviser, and the appointee should co-ordinate the development of the proposed national strategy. A report on the terms of appointment was likely to be presented to the Permanent Secretary in February 2007.
  • English Heritage could well provide administrative support for the strategy, but would need additional resources to support this task.
  • The "bottom-up" approach to developing priorities was the right way forward. In many cases the information on conservation needs was already available at this level, but needed collation.
  • Progress was already being made, and would be pursued further, on a national framework of standards for ICT services, involving The National Archives, and MDA. The National Archives, the MLA and MDA, and JISC, were developing a national framework for digitisation.

Concerns were expressed in particular areas:

  • New funding would not necessarily be available from DCMS, particularly given the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review.
  • The leadership role of the AHRC could create problems, given the high level of funding required to support scientific research. However, AHRC was already in the process of formalising cross-Council funding arrangements, accepted the principle of full economic costs, and would explore the possibility of calling on additional expertise to manage heritage science as a distinct area of research.
  • The model of "end-user led" research should not be allowed to undermine the engagement of university scientists with the Research Assessment Exercise.
  • The focus on national bodies and strategy should not lead to neglect of the thousands of smaller bodies, museums, churches, charities and so on.
  • Support from DCMS and OSI would be crucial if the sector was to take the recommendations forward.
  • Funding for education and training within universities needed to be reviewed. Although the research councils were aware of the need to work on this area, the fact that many university archaeology departments were funded as arts and humanities departments was having an adverse impact on the availability of resources to train heritage scientists.

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