Despite the weather, on 26 January 2015, fifty Prospect members gathered in York to discuss problems in the heritage sector, including four from the British Library branch (Janet Ashton, Chris Martyn, John Tiplady and myself).
Prospect Vice-President, Denise Maguire described the heritage sector as “A massive success story for the UK”. She introduced Prospect’s Heritage in a Cold Climate survey: 82% respondents said cuts had damaged their organisations, yet the top 5 UK tourist attractions are all in the heritage sector and by 2025 tourism will account for 10% UK GDP.
Councillor Janet Looker from York City Council told us how they were making its rich past work for the future well-being of its citizens, despite the challenging financial environment. Later, after the open discussion, Councillor Looker announced that she would be joining Prospect!
Mathematician, Dr. Mick Taylor showed how austerity was increasing inequality, decreasing social mobility and causing public sector funding problems. Austerity, he added, is not inevitable, but a policy choice. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) only measures financial capital, he said, not social, environmental, human or spiritual capital. To count the real value of heritage we need a new economics.
The Chair, Alan Leighton, noted that two of Prospect’s motions to last year’s TUC conference were on heritage funding.
Craig said his employer, English Heritage, was splitting into a public sector advisory body and a charitable body to run the historic sites. They were experiencing a lot of redundancies. Mick Taylor said heritage branches could campaign by trading off the reputations of the institutions they work for, as many are highly regarded.
I talked about how British Library branch was raising public awareness with leafleting events outside St. Pancras and how cuts to the Library were mostly out of public view, but people proved sympathetic when we talked to them.
A York Archaeological Trust worker said bodies were competing for money across the public sector. Mick said the scarcity we experience was contrived. There was only competition between the public sector and the private. Heritage branches needed to campaign together.
National Executive Committee member Neil Hope-Collins said that Prospect needed to organise better geographically. Delegations could visit MP’s surgeries ahead of the general election. Tim from the Valuation Office agreed; MPs, he said, may just not be aware of our problems.
A telecoms worker from South Yorkshire compared the UK with Germany; Germany is very debt-averse yet spends heavily on the arts.
Denise said Prospect headquarters would use ideas from tonight in a heritage impact statement and that Prospect members should visit museums, galleries, etc. to boost visitor numbers!
A Royal Armouries worker said cuts were damaging their museum’s reputation and staff were leaving. Alan agreed, noting that the Tate Gallery Branch had used staff turnover to argue for the resolution of long-term pay anomalies.
The day was very useful for Prospect – and allies – to exchange ideas and to start organising as a heritage sector. Prospect takes these issues seriously, and British Library Branch is constantly pressing the heritage case.
We accept that Prospect needs to address the impact of government policy on all its members. Nonetheless, heritage is a vital focus if the UK is to retain its international reputation as a centre for heritage excellence, and if heritage workers are to continue adding disproportionate value to the economy for the amount invested in us.