At present we probably all feel that we are working in difficult times and the signs are far from optimistic that heritage protection will survive unaffected or completely intact because of the deep cuts expected in public services. I know that many members in public, third and the private sectors are deeply concerned for their future prospects. Frustratingly, we can all still see that in our work and day-to-day lives the heritage needs and will continue to need constant care and vigilance. Public support for that what we do as heritage professionals remains as robust as ever and encouragingly, one of the coalition government’s first actions was to propose the restoration of the percentage of funding from the lottery towards heritage. However it is ironic that at the same time public bodies – the natural partner for such funds – are having their budgets cut.
Many members are understandably anxious about how those cuts will be implemented and what impact they may have on their jobs or the number of commissions they receive. Clearly the IHBC has a role and a responsibility to forge partnerships with like-minded professional bodies and then to campaign at national and local level to try and mitigate any cuts. We must try to ensure that national and local heritage is not dismissed as an “unaffordable luxury” in these difficult times. Much work has been done in recent years to lift the public’s perception of heritage and heritage professionals as a hindrance to progress and there is a growing acceptance that heritage as well as of cultural and social value in itself, is also a critical factor in sustainable economic development, business growth and job stability – particularly in areas in need of regeneration. We have so many examples of how the successful exploitation of heritage has arrested decline and improved the quality of life for local people. The cherished local scene remains the cornerstone of civic pride and stable sustainable communities. What we do is enormously important to Britain’s future and we should be proud of that.
So how can we try to influence the decision-makers so that they recognise the above and that our work is seen as an investment in that future and not a drain on today’s scarce resources? With some that will not be easy and I already hear of members under threat of redundancy. In order to help you if you find yourself in the position where you have to justify your work as a conservation professional, the IHBC has drafted a statement detailing the vast range of work we do – notably identifying the statutory functions (so seldom realised). We have laid out how heritage investment supports civil society and economic growth and how it is the overriding reason why people visit this country and our historic towns and communities and the huge contribution made by tourism to wealth and jobs.
You will find on the web site a detailed report on the statutory roles of the conservation professional and other responsibilities. It lists these along with examples of relevant Ombudsman cases and other useful information. There is a brief version with examples headlines and a more full version with further information and references.
We recognise that the full statement is unlikely to be read by busy CEO’s, Directors and Councillors – the very key decision-makers we need to reach. We know they will face in the next few years some very difficult choices that will require of them far-sightedness and nerve in the face of the temptations of often short-term emotive populist ‘wins’. But we hope that the information will help you to identify the key points which together with your own local issues will have sufficient impact to avoid a hasty and ill-thought-through decision to axe or reduce conservation services or chop that important heritage commission. Pick the points most appropriate to your circumstances.
The IHBC will continue to campaign at national level to ensure that heritage is not abandoned as “unaffordable” and that the skills-base needed to ensure it too plays its part in helping guide the economy out of recession. Of course, if you need any help in making the case do, please, contact the national office who will do all it can.
Let us hope that the portents are worse than the reality and that the beauty of Britain’s historic buildings and landscapes are not scarred by coming events. As someone said “We’re all in this together” –