Heritage Day 2019 (2020)


The postponed Heritage Day 2019, arranged by the Heritage Alliance, was held at The Tower of London in February 2020. The Parliamentary Undersecretary of State, Nigel Huddlestone MP, gave his first speech on heritage and tourism.

Engaging with policy, and trying it out on the spot – personal workshop takeaways

A few takeaways which have stuck with me from the PRAXIS workshop on heritage researchers and their engagement / potential engagement with policy-making:

We shouldn’t overthink it / expertise counts. 

We are used as academics to couching arguments within a hypothesised context often, which can lead to writing that can be less than definite in its views.  In developing evidence which may be used as policy, whilst data and argument does matter, the format and amount of back-up for arguments is the same as may be required in a typical peer-reviewed paper which is open to close scrutiny.  I am not saying that evidence should be lightweight, but equally in our approach to engagement, we shouldn’t overthink things before submitting. Likewise, academics do have expertise, and can be recognised as such due to their experience and positions – we should not be over-concerned about setting out our credentials to show that our views are valid.

The quality of input considered evidence isn’t that high. 

    Within the workshop, an interesting exercise was undertaken where we worked in groups critiquing materials that had already been submitted and accepted as evidence by the House of Lords enquiry which we were using as a case study. The range of materials was interesting, ranging from simple statements of fact, through to closely argumented positions statements.  Not all pieces of evidence stuck to the brief for the call for evidence, and some pieces did not pass the ‘accept as first year undergraduate coursework’ critical viewpoint.  The bar for what is considered evidence suitable for consideration is not the same as a journal article or what might be acceptable in an academic setting – however this doesn’t mean it isn’t used in high level situations, and therefore as academics we very clearly could provide considerable benefit to contributing (given the quality of what else might be considered).

It can be challenging to think about potential impact in the arts and humanities space.

    There was broad recognition that within the arts and humanities space, engagement with policy was not as widespread; the benefits (for all parties) was not well recognised; the potential contribution not realised; and the thinking process may be more difficult for researchers who are used to approaching the subject in a different way (based on the background of the researcher).  Findings or outputs from arts and humanities research might need considerable repurposing to make them suitable for input into policy, and, as one senior academic in the room neatly put it, their brain has to work in two different modes of thinking as to whether they are using material and knowledge for research or for evidence production and submission.  This is not necessarily easy, as the mindsets are different.

Provide killer facts and do some packaging of solutions. 

    Evidence that might be picked up, quoted and used within discussions, often takes the form of a ‘killer fact’ or turn of phrase which suits arguments being made in a sometimes political setting.  Blinding policy-makers or committees with data might be what we want to do, to ensure people have the right facts to back up arguments, but sometimes it can be too much.  Statistics and data needs simple explanation for the everyday reader who may not be an expert in the specialised field of the academic.  Where solutions can be provided for a problem, inference and obfuscation can sometimes hide the intended meaning (especially in the language of academic papers) – a bit of packaging of solutions is therefore worthwhile and appreciated.

Don’t create work for those reading.

    Allied to much of what has been said already, and perhaps obvious – the reader has to be able to understand what is being said.  Inference, nuanced arguments and theoretical frameworks, whilst important, do not necessarily help a reader who is looking for clarity in what is being said.  Think about the abstract rather than the full paper as the equivalent.  Particularly for Parliamentary enquiries and evidence gathering, simplicity in language is really important – as the weight of evidence from across the board may be substantial.

Relate to the brief. 

    We pick up our students on this – but in looking at what had been asked for and what was submitted, in a number of cases the submission really wasn’t entirely relevant. (This may have been deliberate in some cases where a different point was being put across, but it doesn’t necessarily help the analysers of the evidence).
  1. Potentially great impact from arts and humanities researchers.

The interest in the wider role of culture, society, creativity and comparators than can be brought from different societies, viewpoints, locations, and points in time has the potential to add great depth to policy consideration and analysis of evidence.  We should get more involved in submitting evidence that we do currently.

Academic incentives don’t always relate to policy (impact is often thought of differently).

There was much reflection on the incentivisation scheme for getting involved in policy work – recognising that structures in which many of us work rate research, teaching and particular forms of impact metric in such a way that the reasons for investing in policy engagement may not be high.  Even with the impact agenda expanding, there was talk about the way in which impact has to be evaluated and demonstrated, meaning that policy engagement along the way, as opposed to clearly seeing an outcome or change as a result of input can prove problematic.

Review of Heritage Attractions in Wales

Abbot’s House, Neath Abbey © David Gill

The BBC is reporting that the Welsh Government has commissioned a review of heritage attractions in Wales “to improve the commercial performance of historical and culturally important places” (“Welsh heritage bid to compete with rest of UK“, BBC News, 23 January 2016).

Baronness Jenny Randerson will lead the review.

“The disadvantage is that we don’t have a vast number of tourist visitor sites, we don’t have a vast number old houses, shall we say, in comparison with England,” she said.
“But we do have huge quality and we have the advantage of being able to work closely together in a way in which it’s difficult to do in a country as big as England.”
She added it was “vital that our heritage organisations work closely together to maximise our cultural influence and the success of our tourist industry”.

Suffolk’s Coastal Heritage Matters

Landguard Fort © David Gill

The DCMS Coastal Heritage awards attracted £172,900 for five projects in Suffolk: Landguard, Ipswich Waterfront, Bawdsey, and two for Lowestoft. These awards recognise the importance of Suffolk’s coastal heritage.

Ipswich Waterfront: coastal heritage award

Ipswich Waterfront © David Gill

The Ipswich Waterfront has received £50,000 today as part of the government’s grants towards coastal heritage (details of grants, 11 December 2015). The award is for:

The Ipswich Vision Board has responsibility for regeneration of the town centre. It will produce a feasibility study for a prominent, redundant site at the entrance to the town’s Waterfront area that will be consistent with community and economic need.

Landguard also received an award.

Landguard: coastal heritage award

Landguard Fort © David Gill

Landguard point, with its rich heritage and a major bird observatory, is to received a coastal heritage award (“Coastal heritage sites to get £3m cash boost“, BBC News 11 December 2015). It is one of 77 coastal locations to receive funding.

The Department for Communities and Local Government issued a press release (“Seventy-seven projects to receive £3 million coastal revival funding“, 11 December 2015).

“Discover Landguard” has received £27,900:

Discover Landguard is an exciting project that seeks to develop an enhanced heritage offer on the Landguard Peninsula which encompasses the regional heritage assets of Landguard Fort, Felixstowe Museum and a SSSI Nature Reserve.

English Heritage consultation – questions and clarifications please.

ConsultationI have been travelling around with the English Heritage New Model DCMS consultation paper in my bag for a while, gradually annotating and adding question marks in various places.  There has also been some useful academic debate with colleagues which has informed my reaction (rather than response) to the consultation.

To be honest, I think a positive or negative view is hard to settle on at the moment due to the lack of detail in the consultation proposals. What is most interesting though, for the heritage policy academic, is that each of the home countries (England, Wales, Scotland) now seem to be persuing their own forms of heritage policy and management.  There is a rich seam of study emerging!

Questions and requests for clarification arising from the English Heritage New Model consultation document and consultation process by DCMS. February 2014

The proposals present a radical shift in the operational management of the Government’s historic environment service, and present an outline plan for the next 8 years primarily designed to taper out direct funding of the management of the National Collection of sites and monuments to a new charity. This short-term timeframe contrasts sharply with the celebration of 100 years of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act, and gives no indication of a wider context for the historic environment in England for the long term, nor commitment to renewing Government policy for the historic environment as both Scotland and Wales have done.

The majority of the consultation document is taken up by the proposals for the new property management charity, leaving Historic England looking rather like an afterthought and left to “business as usual”, though with wider questions on its longer term funding and effectiveness within a relatively weak DCMS stable. At face value, Historic England will refocus around the basics of the 1983 National Heritage Act which created the Commission in the first place, and changes have therefore been proposed which go to great lengths not to require any legislation. The “voice” of DCMS as the policy lead is muted, and it has been observed that the single public consultation event run was dominated by English Heritage rather than DCMS. The fact that EH has led on pursuing these changes, highlights the need for a fundamental review of the effectiveness and capacity within DCMS, and by implication the future ability of Historic England as a cross-Government advisor. To leave thinking around the implications for development of Historic England to the NHPP (National Heritage Protection Plan) process, as currently seems to be the case seems to miss an opportunity to reassess the status quo in a much changed economic, political and social landscape since HBMCE’s initial creation. There is a higher level

Whilst the proposals have potential merit and benefits, there are a large number of underlying assumptions which must be questioned, as well as vagueness requiring much further detail to be published in order for a full appraisal and judgement of support to be made.

What is particularly interesting to note is the lack of substantive press coverage on the proposed changes. Given the shift in management is broadly comparable with previous proposals for British Waterways (which was turned from a public corporation into a charity, as the Canal and River Trust with transfer of large land/waterway assets), and the Forestry Commission (which saw major public outcry as a potential “selling off” of public woodlands), the little attention has been directed to the £80m grant to create the new charity to improve public access and conservation backlog rather than the finer detail and implications for the actual management of England’s historic environment. It would therefore be beneficial for the DCMS to publish any consideration or “lessons learnt” from these equivalent changes in terms of the wider public policy delivery landscape and operational context.

With regards to the new charity:
A fundamental point to be addressed is that no business case has been published for the new charity. English Heritage Commission minutes have been getting less and less informative over the years, due to delay in publishing on the website and the lack of detailed reporting of decisions with redactions based on commercially confidential considerations. It could be argued that there is already a lack of transparency around how decisions are made, so it is important that the details of the business case and underlying assumptions are published in full for review. The argument around confidentiality I would argue is specious given the push for tourism organisations to work far more closely together in the sector, and the potential opportunity for heritage charities to share best practice in business development by sharing insights, evaluations of opportunities and other commercial data with a view to improving the overall heritage tourism business model. Transparency around the commercial opportunities which are seen internally for English Heritage sites may also enable new partnerships and investments, and drive further efficiency and effectiveness in the sector allowing greater reinvestment in the core conservation purpose.

Further details surrounding the assumptions of membership and admission growth are required. These seem to be optimistic, and despite better performance in recent years, the growth curve graph presented looks to be plateauing. What modelling has been done in the light of wider tourism / attractions development data at a UK and European level? It is acknowledged that cultural tourism remains a strong sector in both visitor motivation and spending data, but the sector is challenged by new entrants (in terms of attraction focus and regional growth in other parts of the World). Equally, what risks have been taken into consideration. If another foot and mouth disease outbreak were to occur, the tourism figures could be radically altered.

It would also be helpful for EH to publish the analysis of change in subsidy per visit within the national collection. The effects of altering staffing / opening patterns is noted, and it would be instructive for the sector to see how the performance of the portfolio has been “turned around” in the recent past. This may allow for further critical analysis of assumptions about investment potential and performance.

Further explanation needs to be provided on why it is felt that there are restrictions on investment (beyond year end carry over). The current restrictions on growth need to be explained, in comparison to the activities that seem to be possible in the structures operated by the national museums. How will the new structure create freedoms which cannot be created by other means? What happens to the current EH trading companies for example?

The charity is to be created as a public corporation: does DCMS have this power? Why is a public corporation, when British Waterways in becoming C&RT has moved away from this structure through a Trustee Settlement to a Charity and Community Interest Company? The question on restrictions needs to be explained in respect of this type of organisational vehicle being used. Perhaps a more fundamental point of question is whether an “independent” charity is in fact being created at all? A public corporation is still effectively falling within the family of Government organisations.

With regard to the English Heritage brand: has a full evaluation been made of the brand equity? What are the implications for established value of brand equity in licensing it to a new body? Will the license provide clear parameters for maintaining / enhancing brand equity?

Capital investment in sites: whilst welcome, which sites will be invested in, what will be undertaken, and will further detail be provided on the expected returns on investment? Who will own the physical / capital assets invested in at sites? Will it be the charity or the Commission? Are there implications for ownership of intellectual property (IP) in property development or enhancement of visitor services and interpretation? In providing for effective management of the charity, will documentation on property management be transferred to the charity (rather than remaining as ‘public record’ within the current English Heritage Archive)? What happens to the current stock of English Heritage shops – how is it being transferred to the new charity?

Can further detail be provided on the conservation backlog. Recent figures are not available, and it is unclear that the proposed £80m endowment will actually be able to cover the necessary costs. What consideration has been given to the availability of professionals to undertake this work, and is there any knock on effect with regard to identified conservation skills shortages already in existence.

Organisational form: alternative management arrangements have been under consideration in both Scotland and Wales recently. It is noted that options appraisal has been published in Scotland for the merger of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission: the text suggests that other options have been looked at – why have these not been published? For example, given there is a tried and tested public corporation model in existence in the form of Historic Royal Palaces, what consideration has been given to the relationship of HRP to these changes, or opportunities for HRP or other bodies to manage the portfolio? What consideration has been given to commercial companies being able to bid to run the portfolio (e.g. Continuum Group or Merlin), or other charitable bodies? This has been hinted at in recent coverage of the changes in Third Sector magazine online http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/news/1228759/English-Heritage-charity-licence-tendered-externally-eight-years/?DCMP=ILC-SEARCH

The argument behind keeping the collection in a single management structure is also not clear, given that the majority of the sites are free entry and there is therefore little likely effect on membership benefits or perceptions. The text notes that the profitable sites (a definition of profitable would be useful) could be ‘transferred easily’ – this therefore needs further explanation.
Modelling of the membership and income generation targets need to unpacked further. The correlation between growth in membership and rise in non-membership admissions also needs to be squared in terms of one income stream potentially effecting the other. Performance of allied commercial activity such as the holiday cottages, catering and events also needs to be factored in.

Issues around the accountable officer also need to be explained further. In the consultation document as it stands, the responsibilities and relationships seem to be slightly unclear and potentially problematic. Transparency in accountability is paramount, and this therefore needs much more explanation, particularly where there may be a situation of ‘dual’ trustees.

There is no doubt that much thinking and analysis has gone into the proposal, but it is a shame that the consultation document does not provide the level of evidence or analysis required for a critical appraisal in the public realm. It is hoped that much more information will therefore emerge lest we create a problem which has to be unpicked or shored up economically in a few years’ time. At the moment it is difficult to present a clear view of support or dissent from the proposal.

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