Concern over plans to split English Heritage

Patrick Steel, 08.04.2014
Parliamentary debate raises worries over organisation’s financial viability
A parliamentary debate on the government’s proposals to split English Heritage into two organisations has raised concerns about its financial viability going forward.

A consultation paper into the future of the organisation proposes that from 2015 English Heritage will become a new charity charged with running the national heritage collection, including Stonehenge, Kenwood House, and Audley End.

Its current responsibilities for conserving England’s historic environment will be delivered by a separate body to be called Historic England.

Under the proposals, English Heritage will be self-financing by 2023, but will receive an initial £80m grant to address repairs to existing properties.

Jenny Chapman, who called the debate, said the most significant concerns centred on the financial model, whether the new charity could achieve self-sustainability in the timeframe proposed, and how that would affect its resources.

“It would be a tragedy if the quality of curation that English Heritage has managed to achieve were diminished,” she said. “The government’s intention is to give the charity an £80m one-off investment to tackle a significant backlog of conservation defects.

“That backlog has arisen, even with the grant-in-aid funding and the current arrangements, and there is concern that such a backlog could occur again.”

John Whittingdale, chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, said that the £80m grant may not be enough to address the existing backlog: “Some people argue that the maintenance and repair backlog for English Heritage properties is even greater. Indeed, I have seen figures of up to £100m.”

Whittingdale also raised concerns that if properties became unsustainable, the new charity might take money from Historic England’s budget or divest itself of the properties.

Helen Goodman, the shadow minister for culture, said: “What will happen to English Heritage’s role as custodian of last resort?”

“Nothing will change under the new model,” said culture minister Edward Vaizey. “English Heritage will still be, potentially, the owner of last resort. A whole range of factors, depending on the particular situation, will influence whether it chooses to step in.

“When it becomes the owner of last resort, English Heritage tries to move the property on. Sometimes it will stay in the national collection, but often English Heritage will want to put it back with a different owner to continue its future.”

The debate follows a series of responses questioning the government’s plans.

The Council for British Archaeology would like to see contingency plans to cover possible risks to the collection following the removal of grant-in-aid in 2023, while Rescue, the British Archaeological Trust, questioned the “practical consequences if the decline in grant-in-aid is not matched by a corresponding increase in donations and other support”.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said that it would be making its response to the consultation this summer.

Comments

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Tim Schadla-Hall
MA Member
Reader in Public Archaeology, University College London
16.04.2014, 15:55
The concerns over the proposal are admirably summarised in the paper byJamie Larkinn which are open access- see
http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/pia.451
I do not understand how the "business plan can stack up and am anmazed that the Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport hasnt undertaken an enquiry- or why the PAC hasnt spotted the craziness and launched an investigation into the plan! This is just a cheap way of off loading the past- which will not work- but by the time this becomes clear all the architects will have retired!
Anonymous
09.04.2014, 21:23
English Heritage self financing? Which bright spark came up with that idea? How much has the present regime blown away on Apethorpe Hall, the 60s Sheffield Tower block, failed licensing arrangements like the English Heritage Fireplace Collection, and a Chief Executive's salary which is £20,000 more than the P.Ms while qualified staff are being made reduntant? 1960s deja vu!
Anonymous
MA Member
09.04.2014, 17:14
If the Hadrian's Wall trst can't survive without grant aid what hope is there for less iconic heritage sites?