Society's Response to Engligh Heritage's 'New Model'
27 January 2014
The General Secretary draws Fellows attention to the Society’s response to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport consultation on the “English Heritage New Model”. The Society’s response has drawn on the wealth or experience within Council to produce a detailed and informed consideration of the issues that this proposal raises. In short, the “New Model” proposes to split English Heritage into two bodies. One part will become a charity whose purposes will be the conservation and public enjoyment of the “National Heritage Collection” of buildings and monuments. The charity will retain the name “English Heritage.” The other part will continue to fulfil the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission’s duties and responsibilities for preserving England’s wider historic environment. Those services will be delivered under the new name of “Historic England”. These proposals will have far reaching consequences for the care and protection of England’s heritage.
The Heritage Alliance put together a list of responses from other organisations, including the Society of Antiquaries of London. Find it here.
Impact from Response
On 2 April a debate regarding the future of English Heritage took place in Westminster Hall. You can read the transcript of the full debate on the future of English Heritage here. During the debate, the Society’s response to the New Model was referenced by both Jenny Chapman MP and Helen Goodman MP.
Jenny Chapman said: ‘The Society of Antiquaries has tried to remind us that it is dangerous to present the [National] collection as a portfolio of visitor attractions. It is a portfolio of national heritage, and less than half the sites are considered capable of generating income. There is some perhaps healthy scepticism over whether the collection has enough revenue-making properties, and will be able to generate enough of a surplus to subsidise the rest.’
Helen Goodman said: ‘The Society of Antiquaries of London seriously doubts “that the envisaged charity could become self-funding, while maintaining standards of curatorial care and property maintenance”.’
Additionally, Gordon Marsden MP (Shadow Transport Minister) quoted a ‘distinguished historian’ in the debate who is, in fact, a Fellow of the Society, to the effect that: ‘The new statutory body is set up by these means and funded for seven years, but what is happening thereafter … £80 million is also trumpeted as a means of immediately repairing and maintaining the “collection” of buildings, but it won’t go far and again will come to an end, leaving … a lot of particularly fragile, ruinous structures at the mercy of fragile local trusts to run them and pay for expensive repairs. Stonehenge may pay its way — many others cannot. Then, of course, there is the issue as to whether Historic England will feel pressured into giving expert advice to developers as a means of raising income.’
This drew a heated response from Ed Vaizey MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries. However, the ‘distinguished historian’ has in fact articulated the fears of many Fellows and others in the heritage sector. Our response cited at the beginning of this piece remains the clearest and most forthright exposition of the situation.
Fellow John Howell MP took the opportunity presented by the debate on the future of English Heritage to discuss relevant information from a recent inquiry he executed with Lord Redesdale, FSA, into the future of local government archaeological services. The provision of archaeological services to local authorities is central to the current system of archaeological protection and is an underlying presumption of the National Planning Policy Framework. It has become clear, however, that this provision is increasingly under threat from financial pressures, to the extent that some authorities can no longer provide an appropriate level of service. With further cuts expected, concern is growing that should nothing be done, these difficulties will become more widespread.
Readers will recall that Ed Vaizey asked John Howell and Lord Redesdale to undertake the inquiry as a result of The Archaeology Forum’s half-day debate ‘Political Policies and Archaeology’ held in the Society’s Burlington House apartments this past October. The purpose of the inquiry was to identify ‘sustainable ways of improving or maintaining the provision of archaeology services to local authorities, recognising that government funding is unlikely to be increased in the short or medium term’.