English Heritage, Historic England, Historic Mistake?

Posted: 19/12/2013 in Miscellaneous, News & Analysis
Tags: , ,

The government is going to split up English Heritage (EH). The rump non-departmental public body, Historic England, will provide ‘impartial advice, expert research…, grants to support heritage at risk and co-ordinating delivery of The National Heritage Protection Plan’. While English Heritage’s (the National Heritage Collection’s 400/420/440) cultural heritage sites will remain in public ownership, the site management operation will become a charitable organisation.

A damaging threat to people-centred heritage

A researcher into the effects of government policy on the historic environment and engagement, Rob Lennox, is concerned that English Heritage is ‘sleep-walking into a crisis of identity, a confused public image, and a potentially damaging threat to [its] people-centred heritage functions’. He suggested a better brand for the charitable wing, the Historic Environment Advice Service for England, but (perhaps discomfitingly perceptively) someone observed that ‘you could add “Records” to make it HEARSE…’.

Waving while drowning

Contrary to English Heritage’s own bizarre claims that the government’s £80m (now £85m) goodbye pay-off constituted a ‘boost‘, or indeed ‘record government investment in the heritage sector’, they are suffering cuts of at least 10%. We know, because they themselves have publicly stated that ‘we are suffering cuts‘ of 10% in 2015-2016.

Doug Rocks-Macqueen’s crunched the (prospective) numbers and shown that EH will (probably) suffer a ‘£19-30m shortfall’, then ‘change [reduce] both salary scales and pension plans as they [EH workers] will no longer be on a civil service plan’ and cut ‘access or staffing to most sites’. After the next election, there will be savage slashes to budgets; most of the already-planned budget cuts will be implemented after the next election. So, by 2017-2018, EH will have suffered a 50-70% cut in funding. By 2022-2023, EH will get no public funding.

Fighting for scraps behind food banks

EH has assumed that it will benefit from ‘an average growth in admissions and membership income of 5% a year’; but presumably that’s based on linear trends, according to which, eventually, more than 100% of the population will be members who donate more than 100% of their income. On top of everything else, English Heritage is already in direct competition with the National Trust (NT) for membership subscriptions and donations; I know people who have chosen between (rather than both) EH and NT membership.

Jusqu’ici, tout va bien (so far, so good)
(Hubert Koundé [La Haine])

English Heritage’s Chief Executive, Simon Thurley, is trying to get the government to guarantee to intervene in any emergency, because ‘[i]f this arrangement damages our ability to be the custodian of last resort it will be a total catastrophe‘. But he is also presiding over the policy of presenting cuts and threats as boosts and opportunities. As Matt Nicholas (@mattnicholas) asked, is Thurley ‘too ideologically aligned with coalition?’ Both current NT staff and former EH staff doubt that EH will be able to raise the money to do the job, so permanent crisis is the best-case scenario.

Don’t say you’re okay when you’re under attack

As Arts Council England (ACE) Chairman Peter Bazalgette argued (separately),

There is a crisis. And when you are under attack what you don’t do is say we’ll be OK. You say actually these are the impacts. We are not going to say there’s nothing wrong, going quietly into night.(1)

Yet, evidently, English Heritage genuinely believe

that this really is good news for English Heritage and that there is no need to panic! It was actually our idea to ask the Government for a one-off lump sum and permission to form a charity to run the historic properties side of EH so we are in fact really pleased that they have agreed.

Did they blow the whole £85m on Kool-Aid?

EH have guaranteed that ‘all existing EH staff who work on the properties will be transferred across to the new charity under their current terms and conditions‘. ‘New staff will be recruited on terms which are competitive in the visitor attractions market‘, though, which means low wages and insecure contracts.


1: It’s more Independence Day than Dylan Thomas.

  1. Rob Lennox says:

    Hi, nice synthesis and analysis, but I (ofarchaeologicalinterest.wordpress.com) don’t speak for the University of York or the CBA, but rather from my own perspective as a researcher.

  2. j kemp says:

    nice post – £80 million was also used as a ‘boost’ to kick British Waterways into touch, and form the some say disastrous Canal & Rivers Trust…….

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