Press release from Culture Media & Sport Committee
20 July 2006
UK HERITAGE UNDER THREAT
The UK's historic buildings are at risk unless the Government starts providing English Heritage with the money and political support it needs.
In a report by the Culture Media and Sport Committee, MPs conclude that 'we find the logic underlying DCMS's explanation of why funding to English Heritage has decreased in real terms in recent years unconvincing, and it inevitably leads observers to conclude that its claim to attach priority to heritage issues is cosmetic and not borne out by the facts'.
MPs call on the Government to "take action to ensure that English Heritage can fulfil its functions properly" and warns that English Heritage should not be expected to fund its portion of the costs of setting up the Government's new heritage protection regime unless it receives more funding.
MPs question the extent to which the DCMS champions heritage in joined-up working across Government. The Committee urges the Secretary of State to convince the Treasury to supply the financial support which the historic environment deserves.
They are particularly disappointed that the DCMS has failed to ensure tax breaks for repair work on listed buildings.
'The present VAT regime for repairs distorts priorities, rewards neglect and works against conscientious maintenance of historic assets. The result can be either a slide towards demolition or a call on public funds for grant aid'.
Tony Blair also comes under criticism for failing to include the UK's heritage in his letter sent to Tessa Jowell outlining the challenges facing her department.
'The omission of a reference to the importance of the historic environment from the Prime Minister's recent 'priorities letter' to DCMS is a surprising and worrying omission...We encourage the DCMS to restate the priority it attaches to the role of the historic environment, and the Government should remedy this omission in its response to this report'.
The Committee's comprehensive report follows a launch of a major campaign by all the major English and Welsh heritage organisations ('History Matters - pass it on') outlining the importance of history in our culture.
MPs agree with the campaign that the growing public appetite for knowledge about the past should be maintained, and that continuing engagement with historic sites is key to their preservation.
'Heritage assets, once lost, cannot be replaced; they are a very special resource and we are only now beginning to realise their full benefits.'
They also call on the Government to ensure that local authorities receive sufficient funding to ensure that they are able to discharge their new responsibilities under the new heritage protection reforms.
Commenting, Committee Chairman, John Whittingdale, said: "Preserving our heritage for future generations is of profound importance and a responsibility which the Government should not take lightly. If our historic buildings are to survive the test of time then they will need greater financial and political support than they currently receive."
The report is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmcumeds.htm
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The title of the Committee report is 'Protecting and Preserving our Heritage' HC 912-I
2. Embargoed hard copies of the report will be available from the House of Commons Press Gallery and the reception of 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA from 1200 Hrs Wednesday 19th July 2006.
3. Media Bids/Request for interview with the Chairman should be directed to Luke Robinson on 07917 488 549.
4. For detailed information the Culture Media & Sport Committee can be contacted on 020 7219 6924.
Members of the Committee are: Mr John Whittingdale OBE (Chairman) (Conservative), Janet Anderson (Labour), Philip Davies (Conservative), Rosemary McKenna (Labour), Mr Nigel Evans (Conservative), Adam Price (Plaid Cymru), Paul Farrelly (Labour), Mr Adrian Sanders (Liberal Democrat), Mr Mike Hall (Labour), Helen Southworth (Labour), Alan Keen (Labour).
Luke Robinson, Select Committee Media Officer, House of Commons
(For: Culture Media & Sport, Education & Skills, Health, Public Accounts, Trade & Industry, Treasury, Work & Pensions, Scrutiny Unit)
T: +44 (0)20 7219 5693, M: +44 (0)7917488549
E: [log in to unmask]