In July 2013 a report on local government staff resources allocated to archaeology and building conservation was issued jointly by English Heritage, The Association of Local Government Archaeological Officers and the Institute of Historic Building Conservation.
The information summarised in the report shows clearly and unequivocally that there has been a significant decline in the availability of the specialist advice that local authorities require if they are to deal properly and responsibly with our archaeological and built heritage. The downward trend in the provision of services which began in 2006 has seen the numbers of archaeological advisors, including Historic Environment Records (HER) officers, fall by 28% while the decline in the numbers of conservation officers has been even more marked at 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.
A future for our past?
RESCUE has been working to protect the nation’s heritage since 1972 and in that time has noted that the provision of heritage services has fluctuated under governments of all political parties. For this reason we are now calling for a cross-party approach to the issues which face us today and which are summarised in the report reviewed here. 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 which is fundamental to the long term survival of our historic sites and landscapes. We expect the members of the APPAG to take on a commitment to work with both professional and voluntary heritage groups to ensure that the nation’s heritage receives the attention and care that it deserves and to argue the case in parliament.
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 care and conservation of the written records, artefacts and other material that are the result of all archaeological fieldwork without the imposition of prohibitive charges on those responsible for depositing such material on the completion of fieldwork.
Please see our full response below, together with an appraisal of the full report. And if you, like us, believe in a future for the past why not JOIN US and help us lobby for a cross-party response to this impending crisis.