The long-awaited news is finally out about the future plans for English Heritage. Opinions are ranging from this being yet another step in the Tories’ dastardly scorched-earth plan to turn Britain into a post-nuclear cultural wasteland, to it being a shrewd move towards a more sustainable future for heritage which takes the pressure off the emaciated public purse. Either way, the issue is politically loaded and steeped in the strong emotions already swirling over the steady deconstruction of the welfare state. But who’s right?
Nobody’s right, and nobody’s perfect, and change is really difficult – especially when it’s a big change to a beloved public institution. People are filled with fear that yet another easy family day out will now become impossibly expensive, and that commercial astuteness will result in the Disneyfication of the EH assets. So there’s a lot of criticism out there, before the process has even had a chance to get off the ground. That’s unfortunate really, because there are so many good people within EH who work hard and are brilliant at what they do – and let’s face it, THEY are the ones who will actually be doing the work of the transition, managing the properties, making the decisions that will affect the daily life of how the public will interact with EH in the future.
We trust them to do the best they can, and we’re prepared to support all of our friends and colleagues as they go through the final stages of what has already been a very difficult few years. Are you?
Original story via Salon:
“The Government has announced that it is planning to provide an £80 million endowment to enable English Heritage to become a self-financing charity, responsible for the management of the portfolio of 420 historic properties that form the National Heritage Collection, including such prime visitor attractions as Stonehenge, Kenwood, Audley End, Dover Castle and Charles Darwin’s home, Down House in Kent.
Under such a scheme, the properties would remain in public ownership, but English Heritage would be licensed to manage them by the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, the statutory body that currently governs all the activities of English Heritage. The statutory planning and heritage protection arm of English Heritage is to be rebranded as the National Heritage Protection Service and may well end up being transferred to the Department for Communities and Local Government, with which it will have closer affinities once divorced from the National Heritage Collection.
Such a move on the part of the Coalition Government has been on the cards for some time. Our Fellow Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, hinted as much in his recently published book, Men from the Ministry, where he wrote: ‘the English part [of the National Heritage Collection] is virtually self-sustaining again. This must open up questions about its future management and governance’ (p 255).
It was no coincidence that Simon was appointed a transitional trustee of British Waterways in 2010, helping to oversee the successful transformation of the former government agency into the Canal & River Trust one year ago. In an interview with Salon’s editor, published in Current Archaeology in October 2011, Simon said that the Government would look to the conversion of British Waterways into a charitable trust as a model ‘for other cultural institutions ― not just English Heritage, but national museums and galleries [including] the British Museum, the British Library’.
At the time, Simon said that the major barrier to the mutualisation of English Heritage was the organisation’s £35m annual deficit. The announcement, then, of an £80m endowment looks like a compromise: sufficient to help but not sufficient to remove the problem. The new charity will, however, have far greater flexibility in the way that it generates commercial and philanthropic income.
A public consultation on the Government’s proposals will begin shortly as will, in due course, the recruitment of a Chair and Trustees for the charitable trust.”
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