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Archaeology Matters

Spending Review 2015 announcement

Earlier this week the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced his Government’s Spending Review for 2015, which brings mixed news for the historic environment.

The Treasury, Whitehall

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) received a 20% cut to its administrative budget, and an overall 5% cut to its supported activities. This settlement is lighter than some other unprotected departments, with the Chancellor noting that it was a ‘false economy’ to impose ‘deep cuts’ on the DCMS’ comparatively tiny budget. This is a line of argument that the CBA has used regularly to argue for the retention of heritage services which generally cost a tiny amount proportionate to the benefits they are able to create. The CBA is pleased that this has been recognised by the Chancellor. The Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) settlement totals 29% cuts, with further cuts expected to bite local government budgets.

The Chancellor stated in his speech that the Government would commit to examining tax relief for museums and galleries and will continue to subsidise free access to national museums. In addition the Government will establish a £30 million Cultural Protection Fund for international support to protect cultural property in conflict zones.

However, for heritage and archaeology at home, none of these headline gains will provide any protection from continued cuts to Historic Environment Records, local authority specialist archaeological advisors or conservation advisors, which will continue to be eroded across the country. Local authority museums also stand to gain little from the announced policies. The CBA expects the impact on these services to increase following today’s announcement. This follows a spate of new cuts coming to light in recent weeks, with heritage services in Lancashire, Cumbria, Cheshire and Berkshire threatened.

In addition, the Chancellor indicated that within DCMS the Art’s budget will be protected; this means that the 20% overall cut will fall disproportionately on the remaining portfolios in the department. It is unclear exactly how heritage budgets will be affected, but with Sports funding to ‘get a boost’ it is likely that the heritage will be one of the primary areas targeted to make up the cuts.

Historic England’s budget is likely to receive a cut in the region of 10% over four years, beginning in 2016. This is despite being only one year removed from its creation after being split from English Heritage (which will still receive the grant-in-aid promised by Government last year).

The largest worries are that cuts to local authority services will not abate and are likely to get more serious as authorities reach a critically low level of resource. In addition, large cuts to DEFRA will likely compound the issue of resourcing for Historic Environment records, which currently receive large subsidies from DEFRA to support its environmental stewardship schemes.

The CBA will be examining the details of the Spending Review in more detail over the coming days and weeks and will be working with partners in the sector to measure the impacts across a range of areas. It is incredibly important that in this context those who care about archaeology and heritage raise their voices in support of sensibly managed change to these services. For information on how you can get involved with protecting heritage and archaeology in your area, visit the Local Heritage Engagement Network pages of the website here.

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