You might think that a one-off £80m grant to English Heritage is good news, and the organisation puts characteristically positive spin on it (www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/80million-boost-heritage/). Dig a little deeper, and the other half of the story comes into view (www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/revenue-funding/): an additional 10% revenue cut to the organisation as part of the 2015-16 Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). The Heritage Alliance has a less optimistic view (www.theheritagealliance.org.uk/2013/06/26/the-heritage-alliance-speaks-o…).
What’s IfA’s opinion? At this stage, at least until the next Council meeting (1 August), a more detailed briefing from English Heritage (a similar timescale) and further discussions with sector partners in England (under way), it’s right that the Institute should reserve its position.
During the negotiation round IfA made the case to the Secretary of State (www.archaeologists.net/sites/default/files/node-files/Maria-Miller-CSR.pdf) and to other politicians that disproportionate cuts to EH would be unacceptable and highly damaging, so it is unlikely that that a 10% cut to EH (5% to arts, museums, galleries and grass roots sports) will be greeted with unalloyed enthusiasm. The extra capital pay-out is to divide the current operation into two subsidiaries of HBMCE (the Historic Buildings and Monuments Council for England, remember?): a charitable trust called English Heritage to look after the properties and a successor quango called the National Heritage Protection Service or something lovelier to fulfil all the other parts of the present remit. Council will have to consider whether this offsets, sweetens or merely obscures the revenue cut.
Had funding not been found to decouple the twin objectives of English Heritage, it is certain that the revenue cuts would have been absorbed almost entirely by the parts of the organisation not involved in managing, and crucially earning income from, the properties: these other departments would have had something like a 20% cut. Bearing in mind that within those departments some functions are statutory and others are discretionary, that would not have been a uniform 20%: parts of English Heritage which are central to securing future heritage protection, where archaeological expertise resides, and which support strategic training initiatives might have been faced with 30-40% reductions, on top of cuts already received. But with the capital grant comes, apparently, some flexibility, and from it the chance of tempering the cuts: that’s to be welcomed.
And splitting the functions of the present agency would seem to be a good plan in principle. There’s nothing wrong with a single body fulfilling both roles (other agencies please note), but in English politics, where attitudes to the historic environment are often less sympathetic than, say, Scotland and Wales, the lack of a single core objective has not helped win hearts, minds or funding. The future bodies have the potential to achieve great clarity of purpose and a pulling-together of the myriad agenda, initiatives and viewpoints that we know and love. Perhaps this is why the announcement of a 10% cut has been presented as the beginning of an enhancement of the organisation’s heritage protection activities (a brave signal to government, in the circumstances). But is now the moment at which that potential is most likely to be realised? Some observers might consider that the timing makes it easier for Treasury, or DCMS, to implement a policy of divide and diminish. Others might take the view that division was going to happen at some time; it’s happened now; and at the time when national and local services are being cut down or eliminated like never before, when we most need structural change in the way we look after and understand England’s heritage.
To start the discussion Council will be invited to consider how to move the discussion – and perhaps government’s consultation – on from reducing impact by shuffling money between HBMCE budgets to new ways of resourcing the entire network of curatorial provision: national agency, different tiers of local government and third sector bodies all working together or tripping over each other to manage change in the historic environment. Such issues have been discussed at Council before, and were aired in the opening debates of our 2011 and 2012 conferences. How do we turn messages about business as usual in spite of austerity to ones about the opportunity to reallocate the roles, remits and resourcing of those disparate parts into a radically new, unified framework? During its first five years the National Heritage Protection Plan has been evolving from an English Heritage plan to one owned, managed and delivered by the entire sector. As with NHPP so with NHPS? Might the best starting point for the National Heritage Protection Service be to plan for a coordinated, integrated sectoral effort before designing a structural entity?