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The fifth report on local government staff resources

English Heritage, The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation July 2013

An appraisal by RESCUE The British Archaeological Trust


RESCUE The British Archaeological Trust1 welcomes the fifth report on local authority staff resources2 and the presentation of data pertaining to the ongoing loss of specialist professional advice in the fields of archaeology and building conservation. The data summarised in the report show clearly and unequivocally that there has been a significant decline in the availability of specialist advice to local authorities in both fields. The downward trend which began in 2006 has seen the numbers of archaeological advisors, including Historic Environment Records (HER) officers, fall by 28% and a fall in building conservation advice by 33%. In the past twelve months alone the number of archaeological specialists has fallen by 3% and the numbers of conservation officers by 4%. There is no sign of this rate of decline ceasing and with further cuts to local authority budgets planned for the financial year 2013-2014 it seems that the situation will continue to worsen. These findings confirm the anecdotal information collected by RESCUE over the same period which indicates that heritage services are amongst the first to be reduced or eliminated by local authorities when cuts are required to meet central government spending targets. Specific examples include the closure of the Merseyside HER and the withdrawal of advice to five local authorities (Knowsley, Liverpool, Sefton, St Helens & Wirral) in a region that includes the Liverpool waterfront World Heritage Site. Other areas affected by severe cuts include the West Midlands where Sandwell and Dudley no longer have HERs, Walsall has no archaeological officer and where the whole of Birmingham is the responsibility of one individual. Such actions are directly contrary to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF)3 which states that

Local planning authorities should have up-to-date evidence about the historic environment in their area and use it to assess the significance of heritage assets and the contribution to their environment. ... Local planning authorities should either maintain or have access to a historic environment record (NPPF paragraph 169, emphasis added).

In a speech delivered on 24th April 2013, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Maria Miller, drew attention to the immense financial value of the cultural sector, including the heritage sector and made specific reference to the case of Liverpool4. In a response to the speech, RESCUE questioned the logic of emphasising the value of culture while at the same time allowing spending in real terms to fall to the extent that the historic environment is no longer effectively protected5. RESCUE believes that the points made in its response to the Ministers speech are confirmed by the findings of the report on local authority staff resources. On the basis of this evidence, RESCUE asserts that the governments imposition of unrealistic spending limits on local authorities is a transparent tactic designed to deflect criticism of government policy onto local authorities and thus to shift the blame away from central government to local government under the guise of permitting local decision making. RESCUE asserts that responsibility for the nations heritage should be borne equally by local and national government and that the central government should take active steps to fulfil its responsibilities under the NPPF and international agreements (notably the Valetta Convention6) by requiring local authorities to meet those responsibilities and by giving them the resources to do so. RESCUE notes that the provision of heritage services has declined under both the present and previous governments and insists on a cross-party approach to the issues raised in the report. In particular RESCUE expects to see the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Archaeology (APPAG) taking a much more robust role in monitoring and actively supporting the system of heritage protection and taking on a commitment to work with both professional and voluntary heritage groups to ensure that the nations heritage receives the attention and care that it deserves. As a first step, RESCUE calls on the government and the opposition parties to undertake a joint commitment to the following reforms to the system of heritage protection: To make the provision of conservation and archaeological advisory services charged with the safeguarding of the historic and built environment a statutory obligation on all local authorities To make the provision of a fully resourced Historic Environment Record a statutory obligation on all local authorities To make access to a Historic Environment Record free for all citizens, community groups, research students, academics and others with a legitimate interest in the historic environment

Furthermore, RESCUE sees it as essential that local and regional museums are adequately resourced in order to be able to undertake the reception, curation and conservation of archives arising from archaeological fieldwork (both commercial and noncommercial) without the imposition of prohibitive charges on those responsible for depositing such archives. RESCUE believes that the country is close to reaching a point at which the provision of services designed to safeguard our historic environment is no longer adequate to meet the challenges that present themselves on a day-to-day basis. The report reviewed here is the fifth on such issues and the information that it contains is paralleled by the experience of other heritage organisations. The catalogue of losses continues to mount in spite of the publication of such reports and expressions of concern at the worsening situation. At what stage will we decide to act collectively to support under-resourced and vulnerable services and thus ensure that our historic sites and landscapes receive proper protection through the planning process? There is an obvious challenge here for the bodies that have compiled this report and for those who purport to represent the heritage profession to act to address the situation. More broadly there is a need for everyone concerned with our nations heritage, including the wider public to commit to join the campaign in support of threatened services. Will we rise to meet this challenge as we did in the early 1970s or will future generations look back on the early 21st century as the time when we abandoned our past to short-termism and financial expediency? RESCUE The British Archaeological Trust 19th September 2012
Notes 1RESCUE is an independent organisation dedicated to promoting archaeology in Britain and abroad. Details of RESCUEs work can be found on the website: www.rescue-archaeology.org.uk
2A

summary and a link to the report can be found here: http://ihbconline.co.uk/newsachive/?p=6410


3National

Planning Policy Framework: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/6077/2116950 .pdf Testing Times: Fighting cultures corner in an age of austerity https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/testing-times-fighting-cultures-corner-in-an-age-ofausterity
4

Testing Times: Fighting cultures corner in an age of austerity A response by RESCUE The British Archaeological Trust http://rescue-archaeology.org.uk/2013/04/26/testing-times/
5 6Details

of the terms of the Valetta Convention can be found here: http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/en/Treaties/Html/143.htm . RESCUE contends that Britain is

in breach of Articles 2 (i), 4 (iii) and 5 (i, ii and iii) of the Convention as a direct result of government policy.