Last week, a debate on Local Arts and Cultural Services (including archaeological services) was held in the House of Lords. CIfA, the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), and Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers (ALGAO), provided a briefing to Peers on local authority archaeology services, and the Society for Museum Archaeologists (SMA) provided a briefing on archaeological archives and specialist curatorial capacity in museums.
This has been an issue that CIfA has strongly advocated on in recent years, and this debate highlighted, once again, a number of reflections upon the scale and importance of the problems of funding facing local authorities, and the importance of these services to both the vibrant cultural life of our towns and cities, and to the proper functioning on the planning system.
Recent evidence produced by the SMA provides a more detailed background to the issues facing museums and can be downloaded here.
Summary of the debate
The Earl of Clancarty, who requested the debate, provided a context for the scale of the problem, stating;
“it cannot be overemphasised that since 2010, with the onset of austerity, provision for local arts and culture has been steadily and in some cases drastically eroded, mainly through cuts to local authority arts and cultural funding.”
The context for this concern is the huge budget shortfall facing local authorities, which means that many will be unable to pay even for statutory services by 2020, meaning that ‘discretionary’ spend – which covers virtually all aspects of heritage, culture and arts services, is likely to be at serious risk.
For archaeology, the 33% fall in local government archaeological officers was highlighted, along with the recognition that in excess of 90% of known archaeological assets rely primarily on the planning system for protections.
The Lords Redesdale and Renfrew both spoke in support of archaeological services and the vital role that they serve in the planning system, and others spoke more broadly of the cultural and social value of arts, heritage and culture to local places.
In response, on behalf of the Government, Lord Ashton of Hyde acknowledged that;
‘The presence or absence of beautiful buildings, galleries, museums, libraries and treasured archaeological sites has a huge impact on whether somewhere thrives and is a good place to live.’
‘many local authorities have acknowledged that not supporting arts and culture is both a serious failing and a false economy, and continue to invest in all those sectors.’
He went on to outline the Government’s plans to work within DCMS and through Historic England to address issues facing local government archaeology services, stating;
‘This [work] will involve developing professionally recognised standards and guidance, a review of local authority models for charging for archaeological services and research into the impact of heritage service changes in the south-west.’
The Minister also cited the forthcoming publication of the DCMS Museums Review in the summer, which is due to directly address the archaeological archives crisis.
This work comes as a result of CIfA’s lobbying, and that of colleagues in the sector, to represent these issues to Government and as a result of the Future of Local Government Archaeology report produced by Lord Redesdale and John Howell MP in 2014, and published late last year.
It is pleasing to see public confirmation of the range of actions being undertaken by DCMS and Historic England, after long negotiations with CIfA and colleagues in the sector, to deal with issues facing archaeological services and the forthcoming Museums Review. These initiatives are valuable and CIfA will support them as they progress. However, we also note concern as to whether the proposed actions are doing enough to adequately support services which are currently at threat. CIfA will continue to lobby vociferously on this issues, and will work with colleagues in the CBA, ALGAO, SMA to put pressure on Government to enable solutions in these areas.
The full transcript of the debate can be read here.