DCMS Culture White Paper

Society Submits Response for the DCMS Culture White Paper

In Salon 353, circulated on 16 November, we noted that the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport is proposing, as soon as February 2016, to publish a White Paper on Culture, on the broad themes of Places, People, Funding, and Cultural Diplomacy. A general invitation was issued for contributions from individuals or organisations. Our thanks to those Fellows who wrote in with suggestions for text or points to include; the Society's Policy Committee has now agreed the text for the Society's response, which has been made available below. The committee was not able to accept all the suggestions put forward, but has tried, so far as practicable, to fashion a response to DCMS which encapsulates many of the Society's values, which were agreed by Council earlier this year. We await the Culture White Paper with interest!

Submission by the Society of Antiquaries of London to the DCMS White Paper on Culture (December 2015)

Places 

Ideas of ‘place’ are typically rich and complex. History and heritage are essential factors in the entirety of the range of what places may mean to people. In the simple sense of ‘position’, places are permanent points of reference; however the actual form of any place will have been shaped by human activity, usually over many thousands of years, while perceptions of places continuously evolve through a host of experiences and memories, both public and private.

The Society hopes that the forthcoming White Paper will show that the Government appreciates the value of rigorous research on the cultural, archaeological and historic resource, so that knowledge and understanding of human history and development in its physical and cultural environments will continue to grow. This is important to ensure that the management of the historic environment is approached with as much accurate background knowledge as possible; this knowledge informs decisions, helps to clarify the significance of what remains from the past, and results in proper evaluation of the impact of any proposed changes.

Key to this is the Planning System itself, where Local Authorities are in the front line of decision-making about the significance of the existing heritage and the impact of proposed change to it. The importance of good and early advice for those managing or seeking change to the heritage is paramount, but this kind of advice tends to be one of the first casualties in the drive for cost-savings, and the private sector cannot be relied on to provide disinterested and impartial advice on this to their clients.

The Society strongly believes that local authority archaeology services, including both Historic Environment Records and Archaeological Resource Centres for the storage and curation of archaeological site archives, are vital for the identification, protection and public appreciation of England’s heritage.   The Society has already proposed in our reply to the Redesdale Enquiry in 2014 that the reorganisation of these kinds of services into larger, regional structures was likely to be the best way of sustaining them in the absence of new legislation and in face of continued reductions in staffing and funding.  We also believe that such a move would provide other benefits in terms of the efficiency, community involvement and opportunities for new sources of funding. It is important for Government to give a clear lead on what level of service it wishes to see as part of cultural provision for the heritage; if it does not, there is a real danger of local fragmentation of the resources and a loss of protection to the historic environment.  Historic England, the new national lead organisation for the historic environment, has rightly identified support for local authority archaeology and conservation services as one of its priorities.  We therefore believe that it would be appropriate for Historic England to work with the relevant local authorities to create workable regional solutions.

The Government also needs to demonstrate its support for owners and guardians of heritage, both public and private, in the protection and conservation of the material remains of the past for future generations. Government sets the climate within which others operate, and this needs not just statements of intent such as White Papers, but actions too. As examples of how the climate could be made more heritage-friendly, the issue of 20% VAT imposed on repairs to listed buildings and scheduled monuments (the latter normally of no beneficial use to their owners) is a long-running problem which has not been solved, other than as an interim measure for churches.

The Society has also expressed concerns in the past about aspects of the Government’s approach to relaxing planning controls, in particular the incremental effect of a series of what may appear to be small scale changes to the historic environment but which, added together, lessen the appeal and the viability of a place. Heritage should be recognised as vital infrastructure and its role in supporting tourism, offering skilled jobs in construction, in education, in providing housing and other areas and generally in promoting economic growth needs to be properly recognised and publicised. 

DCMS in its White Paper could also produce a statement of values which will be adopted, respected, and acted on across all Government. There is a growing body of evidence, for example, that health and well-being have a clear relationship to cultural heritage, and to see this explicitly recognised by DHSS would be welcome. In the drive by DCLG for efficiency and cutting “red tape”, heritage issues seem often to be seen as a constraint. Studies, however, have shown that heritage, culture and our natural green spaces act as a tourism draw (see the Heritage Lottery Fund/Visit Britain 2010 report Investing in Success - Heritage and the UK Tourism Economy and the Oxford Economics 2013 Economic Impact of the UK Heritage Tourism Industry). The most recent (Jan 2015) HLF annual research review update, summarising studies of the economic impact of built and natural heritage, museums and galleries, estimated that their net contribution to the whole of the UK economy is in the scale of £50bn pa, supporting 1.28m jobs. All Government Departments need to be encouraged to value and recognise this national asset, to understand the impact that it will have on the areas of responsibility they bear, and to ensure that their own actions do not unwittingly or otherwise diminish its significance or attraction.

Our response to this consultation focuses in the greater part on England, but culture and heritage issues are devolved to the Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish Governments and Assemblies. There is a clear case for as much consistency across the whole of the UK as is possible in this area of policy. It would be good to see DCMS recognising a responsibility and an intention to co-operate with the devolved powers in Wales, Scotland and NI to strive together for consistent and high standards of practice, where differences could easily lead to inconsistencies and damaging incompatibility of records.

People

Much of what we say above is about people as much as it is about places. We urge the Government to recognize the relevance of understanding the past to present and future generations and how the past provides key resources with which people and communities identify. There is a crucial link in this to the localism agenda, covering not only the ‘familiar and cherished local scene’, as once so well expressed in PPG15[1] and reflected in the wording of para 126 of the National Planning Policy Framework, but also often intangible traditions, customs, legends and stories, which give people a sense of the atmosphere and depth of the places they inhabit or visit. Heritage activities are a key ingredient in helping people gain a ‘sense of place’ about where they are living, working and spending leisure time. The voluntary sector has a major role to play in encouraging active participation by the population at large in heritage activities in a context where the costs of the basics are funded by the community at large. Active participation in heritage activities is extremely beneficial for children and young people and for the young and not-so-young retired in keeping minds active and helping to ward off depression and dementia.

Funding

The Society places considerable value on the support and promotion of the range of institutions that collect, curate and encourage use of heritage resources. This includes the national, local and private museum and archive collections, as well as national bodies such as English Heritage and Historic England. We understand the Government’s ambition of encouraging and supporting these sorts of institutions to seek philanthropy and to access sources of funding which are not derived from Government, but we also consider that Government must continue to show through its financial support for them that such bodies are useful and valued for what they do, what they contribute to the national economy and sense of well-being, and how Britain is viewed by the increasing numbers of people who see our history and culture as a major draw for international visitors.

We believe in particular that the new means of providing for England’s historic environment through Historic England and English Heritage should be funded at the level promised at the time that the split between the two bodies was finalised earlier in 2015. This was intended as a model for the way in which government-sponsored organisations may be able, with time, to be restructured to maximise the potential for new means of income generation. Historic England does not benefit from the earning power of the national collection of historic properties, but is still tasked with providing specialist advice to local and central government, as well as public-facing advisory, engagement and archive services. Cuts to its funding, awarding less than the assurances given by Ministers at the time of the split, would undermine the organisation’s operation at this critical early point, and would call into question the Government’s commitment to the protection of the country’s heritage and the nature of assurances recently given.

The continual reduction in Historic England’s grant in aid and its grant funds is unhelpful and does not encourage investment or repair. The Heritage Lottery Fund continues to make a very positive contribution to sustaining Britain’s cultural and natural heritage, through substantial funding that was intended in 1995, when the lottery was first set up, to be additional to established public funding streams. For the historic environment, those public streams of funding have now all but dried up at both national and local government levels. Perhaps, in the light of this, it is time to review priorities across the sector for deploying the limited public funding available for the historic environment.

Historic England is also seen as the sector leader for a great number of charities, which have to exist from grants, from philanthropy, and from the identification of projects on which they can focus fundraising and appeals for support. Heritage charities therefore take on considerable responsibilities, and offer commitment, enthusiasm and energy for little reward, other than the satisfaction of seeing the nation’s heritage well managed and being valued as part of the fabric of the nation. Preservation Trusts, in particular, have a key role in helping local authorities to tackle the repair and retention of Buildings at Risk. However, if the modest levels of support for these bodies through Historic England or other sources of public funding dries up, it will be no easy task to replace these with voluntary donations. Donors and supporters will need much persuading if the Government fails to show that it is committed to supporting our key public bodies, and the scale of funding awarded by Government to cultural institutions either directly or through local authorities must continue at a reasonable level if other means of support – even if attracted by more generous tax incentives than at present – are to be drawn in.

Cultural Diplomacy

England’s heritage is in a strong position to continue to make a real contribution towards internal employment and investment, as well as being used to broadcast to the world the value the nation attaches to our cultural heritage. This can be seen not only in our care for the tourist hotspots such as Stonehenge, but also for the small-scale and local heritage which adds depth to our collective appreciation of the nation’s character and feel. Both Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund assess regularly what impact is being produced by the current funding which is made available both by those bodies and by the analyses of others.

UK expertise in building conservation and restoration techniques generally are unrivalled and could be trumpeted to a greater extent, and exported more assiduously.

The Society wishes to encourage the Government in any efforts it can make to prevent deliberate destruction of the archaeological and historic resource at home, and to join in international efforts to prevent its wilful or showpiece destruction in other countries. We have been concerned for some time about the illicit trade in antiquities, which places the monetary value of artefacts above that of their worth as information about the past. Where it can, we urge the Government to show its commitment to making active and determined efforts to develop effective national and international legal frameworks for protection of cultural heritage, through a responsible approach both to consultation and campaigning.


[1]Planning Policy Guidance 15: Planning and the Historic Environment (1994, withdrawn 2010)