Funding of the arts and heritage - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) (arts 78)


    — Based in the UK, the NAS is a key international society for nautical archaeology.

    — Britain's heritage is a unique national asset that defines Britain's cultural and historic identity and is of great social educational and economic value.

    — Taken as a whole, embracing tourism, publishing, media and museums as well as aspects of environmental protection and conservation, Britain's heritage industry is very largely funded from non-government sources.

    — Nonetheless, public sector funding is critical at both national and local level to ensure effective delivery of the substantial economic and social benefits that accrue from well managed, effectively promoted heritage.

    — There is a major challenge facing the UK across aspects of heritage at all levels. Funding of heritage is complex, relying on complex interrelationships of public, commercial and voluntary funding sources.

    — UK public sector heritage services have already been subject to substantial downward pressure from below inflation budgets at both national and local level. At the same time the growth in commercial, private and community activity has been burgeoning, leaving no surplus capacity to squeeze out of public services.

    — Considering the key role that seafaring has played throughout Britain's history around the world, public funding for maritime heritage has been a poor relation of heritage funding.

    — Removing the catalyst that public sector funding provides is likely to result in much of the fabric of heritage funding unravelling—especially if done precipitately before other arrangements can be put in place.

    — The potential of the private sector to replace public services is unlikely to lead to real savings of any significance, and is not appropriate for formal regulation.

    — Although Britain has a very well developed and vibrant voluntary sector heritage, it cannot readily help without more support in capacity building and training, and development of less bureaucratic funding models.

    — A major shift of funding for heritage could lead to irrecoverable loss of capacity and services rather than useful savings.

    — This would be a major set-back when the need for improved guidance, advice and support, and a more modern legislative regime are essential if Britain is to remain a major force in the conservation and promotion of maritime heritage nationally and internationally.


The Challenge

  1.  At the same time as tackling the public finance deficit head on, the new coalition Government in Britain is promoting the concept of a "Big Society" in which individuals and community groups do more for themselves. The combination means swingeing cuts in public expenditure are coming down the line, and we are only just beginning to glimpse what they may entail. The philosophy of rolling back government and encouraging people to do more for themselves is appealing to many, and over-expenditure on unnecessary activity by the State can certainly be wasteful. But the crucial question is what activities are unnecessary, and which do or do not need to be done by Government?

The Importance of Heritage and Value for Money

  2.  Heritage services are often seen as something of a luxury, especially when compared with education, health or looking after the elderly. But this is far too simplistic. Taken as a whole, the heritage industry in the UK is a big part of the economy, embracing tourism, publishing, media and museums as well as aspects of environmental protection through development funded work to conserve or record heritage assets under threat. Most of this activity is self-financing, and tourism is Britain's biggest source of valuable export revenues after financial services.

  3.  In recent years the economic and social benefits of well-managed heritage and of enabling people to study it for themselves have started to be recognised. But this has hardly registered at the scale where heritage is just a footnote in the bigger picture of the savings that need to be made across-the-board.

  4.  A key issue is that the present very small public sector budgets for heritage—at both national and local level—are essential catalysts in providing guidance, advice, information and other data services and pump-priming grants that ensure the effectiveness of how the private and voluntary sectors deliver public benefits in conservation, education or economic prosperity. They also crucially act as a key factor in terms of leverage to attract other resources. The bigger the benefits levered in by public expenditure, the more devastating cuts are liable to be. This is especially true of the heritage sector.

Public funding and possible cuts in the offing

  5.  So far the Government has announced a general target of reductions in expenditure in the order of 20-25% in non-ring-fenced areas. Specifically within the heritage sector it has announced an intention to abolish various heritage quangos, including the Advisory Committee on Historic Wreck Sites and the Museums and Galleries Commission. However, these bodies perform useful functions that need a degree of independence and the savings to be made—especially in the case of the Advisory Committee—are minimal. These proposals look like an ideological move to give the impression of action, not intended to make real savings or improve functions. This does not bode well for the real cuts to come.

  6.  Much bigger questions have yet to be tackled concerning the whole structure of heritage services—whether national heritage agencies will survive in their current form; whether state owned heritage properties will be sold off to be looked after by the voluntary sector, as suggested recently for national nature reserves; whether non-statutory local authority museum and other heritage services will survive at all. It is not difficult in the present climate to see major changes in how much—and what—the public sector will be able to do in future, with much greater emphasis on getting back to basic statutory functions.

  7.  The role of local authorities is of particular importance in the application of heritage legislation through planning and advisory roles and delivery of heritage services at local level, including museums, libraries, archives, historic environment records and support for activities involving community groups. But these services are especially vulnerable: they are not statutory requirements services, and because most are delivered at County or Unitary authority level, they are in competition with key services such as education social services for adults, which are more or less to be ring-fenced, and with other services (such as fire public health etc) which are statutory requirements. With ring fenced services accounting for 60% or more of relevant budgets, the swingeing cuts being imposed look very likely to have to be shared wholly disproportionately among other services some of which are statutory obligations. The result seems likely to be the decimation of non-statutory heritage services at local level.

  8.  While DCMS takes overall responsibility for maritime heritage, it is far from being the only national government department with key responsibilities and relevant budgets. It is important to stress that the MoD (especially through defence estates, but also for example the service museums and HMS Victory), DoT (through the Receiver of Wreck and as owner of numerous merchant vessel wrecks), DEFRA (as parent department of the MMO, marine exploration and fisheries), DTI and Climate (as departments for regulating offshore development), the Crown Estate (as owner of the seabed), and FCO through UK representation on international bodies), also have key responsibilities even though the scale of funding is mostly minimal.

  9.  Indeed, all these bodies are heavily dependent on English Heritage and the other heritage agencies in the devolved administrations for advice and guidance provided by a tiny handful of experts. As already noted above, another important area of funding comes directly or indirectly under the Departments covering education and local government where changes in central government support can have massive knock-on effects for non-statutory local government heritage services.

  10.  It is important to appreciate how different aspects of these budgets and services come into play—all on a very small scale but with massive influence on conservation and appreciation of the nation's maritime heritage. The tiny number of people responsible for these areas in DCMS English Heritage and their devolved equivalents are fundamentally important to retaining and developing momentum to address the challenges facing maritime heritage—both in terms of pressure for development on—and off-shore and the urgent need for better, simpler legislation. These have been outlined in the response from the Joint Nautical Archaeology Committee and we refer the Committee to their response. From our perspective as an international NGO based in one of the world's great maritime nations, we would only wish to stress how serious and pressing these issues are in relation to the UK's international reputation in maritime heritage.

  11.  Coverage of maritime heritage has been improved in the last decade—especially through support from the Aggregates Levy and Heritage Lottery and increasing awareness of responsibility of off-shore developers. The Marine Act and establishment of the MMO offers further potential, but the expert input to support this is still miniscule and there is still a long way to go. DCMS has a critical role in ensuring that it continues to provide the crucial cross-departmental advice required. This growing critical need for guidance, advice and support should not be jeopardised by an unthinking mantra to make across-the-board savings that may be piffling in financial terms but devastating in capacity to manage the nation's maritime heritage effectively.

  12.  The big danger is that removing or substantially diminishing the central government catalyst will save very little but have much more serious impacts in the indirect loss of substantial private sector and voluntary capacity for safeguarding and studying Britain's maritime heritage and weaken the very substantial economic and social benefits arising from tourism, education, volunteering and conservation.

  13.  The already major problem of finding anywhere to conserve and retain maritime heritage both nationally and locally, is especially likely to be exacerbated at the local level, where ring fenced services and statutory functions of local authorities are likely to take precedence over non-statutory heritage services. It is likely that museum and archives services, which in many places are already under massive pressure will be decimated, despite these being of vital importance for both terrestrial and maritime archives and records. These underpin research into Britain's history, including the burgeoning interest in family history for which maritime archives are especially detailed and informative.

Nautical and Maritime Heritage Funding—NAS experience

  14.  As a UK charity working as an international NGO, the NAS is a charity concerned with promoting exploration and conservation of a particular aspect of heritage. Despite having only 2.5 FTE employees and two further professionals acting on a part time consultancy basis, the NAS has a high standing both internationally and nationally. We publish the leading peer-reviewed journal in the field; over the last 23 years have developed the only UK specialist heritage training course to have been exported to c. 20 other countries round the world, and like many other societies have developed a wide range of collaborative projects with local groups and local authorities that have been very effective in raising interest in maritime heritage, and for example have been doing pioneering work with UNESCO.

  15.  Much of the NAS's income comes from publications (especially the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology) and from training courses and international training franchise and membership. Most other funding comes from some national government grants (eg English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland, Crown Estates), some Heritage Lottery funding, some funding from collaboration with local authorities (especially via NAS North East, an especially strong and productive branch run in close collaboration with the Teesside local authority at Hartlepool).

  16.  In a very small way this illustrates the variety and diversity of funding sources on which voluntary sector heritage bodies typically rely. They are not entirely independent of each other, but commonly rely on partnerships and arrangements that have been built up over time and where part of the work often relies on multiple sources with commitments to lever in other contributions in cash or kind.

  17.  These inter-linking and often inter-dependent sources of funding from multiple sources is both typical and highly significant in understanding how voluntary sector heritage activities are resourced. Like patterned knitwear, pulling out a strand of one colour is liable to lead to the whole garment unravelling. Re-knitting the remaining colours takes time, patience and resources, which may not be available.

Other means of delivering heritage services

  18.  There is much expertise in universities, professional and voluntary bodies, already much engaged in a wide variety of projects, that could be drawn upon further for certain roles—indeed, the composition of the expenses-only ACHWS is a prime example. Although it is possible that some services might be delivered at lower cost by the private sector, the savings are likely to be minimal: staffing levels have already been under considerable pressure and salaries and overheads would be much the same in any event. There are also important issues of public accountability where legal regulation is involved.

  19.  The Government has been keen on the idea of the Big Society, and although it is not overtly being prompted as an alternative to public services in the face of swingeing cuts, the implication is that there is little else available. Britain does have a vibrant voluntary heritage sector—including maritime heritage—which embodies a significant amount of professional expertise; but expecting it to step in to do more makes a lot of assumptions about its capacity to act. The Big Society idea has not (as far as we know) been examined in terms of different sectoral interests, and capacity to respond depends a great deal on how non-profit making bodies are organised.

  20.  In the heritage sector most charities—like the NAS—have very few if any employed staff and know all too well that recruiting and training volunteers to be effective is not a tap that can suddenly be turned on or off.

  21.  Fundraising and obtaining grant aid is another key issue. Since the 1980s the concept of "core funding" has become anathema to governments (and grant-giving bodies such as the Lottery and private grant-giving trusts) wanting to ensure good value for money in public expenditure, making project-funding de rigueur. But one result is that more and more time is now spent making multiple applications for money from an increasing diversity of over-subscribed funds, adding a whole layer of administrative costs to getting anything done. This sort of micro-management of grants is immensely bureaucratic, and in the case of charities fails to recognise that the trust to do publicly beneficial work is already embedded in their constitutions.

  22.  Other forms of fundraising (via donations, legacies, fundraising events, membership drives, etc) also require a considerable amount of time and energy, and for any long-term sustainable funding substantial administrative support and specialist expertise that needs strategic development over many years, and again cannot suddenly be turned on.

  23.  If the Big Society is about trusting voluntary and community organisations to do more public good in times of financial austerity, a first step for Government will be to provide active support for capacity building without bureaucratic micro-management of every project. However, this is not a quick-fix solution, and there are likely to be huge problems where existing key professional capacity is lost, especially given the likelihood of it never being re-established.


  24.  There is an inevitable crisis in public sector funding heritage in the view of major cuts in national and local expenditure, especially given the ring-fencing of some major budgets and the lack of statutory requirements for heritage services.

  25.  Britain's heritage, including its maritime heritage which is of major international importance, is of immense economic and social value to the nation. Its conservation, study and enjoyment is guided, supported and promoted on the basis of miniscule public expenditure that acts as a vital catalyst to bring in other, often highly interdependent resources both in cash and kind. This could easily be unravelled by unthinking across-the-board cuts.

  26.  There is a very real danger that any sudden reduction or shift in existing funding will lead to loss of capacity and services rather than savings. This would be a major set-back when the need for improved guidance, advice and support, and a more modern legislative regime are essential if Britain is to remain a major force in the conservation and promotion of maritime heritage nationally and internationally.

  27.  The private sector and voluntary sector do have the expertise to do even more to help support or replace public services, but it is highly questionable that this would lead to real public expenditure savings of any significance. There is scope for voluntary bodies to do more education, training and community work as a contribution to conservation and research, but it requires more support for capacity building and development, and less bureaucratic funding models.

September 2010

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