UK GENERAL ELECTION: WHAT THE MAIN PARTIES SAY ABOUT CULTURE AND HERITAGE

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Archaeologists and heritage people are also individuals and members of professional and social communities, and of extended families all interacting with Government in many and complex ways. It follows that deciding where to place the cross on the ballot paper for Thursday’s General Election will take into account many factors over and above membership of a particular group or profession. Especially so when opinion polls appear to indicate this could be the most consequential UK election in decades. Nonetheless, it is inevitable that professional concerns about how the various parties see the heritage sector in their wider plans for the country will be at least a factor in their decision making for many. This then is a brief digest of the main commitments set out in the various party manifestos as they would impact on archaeology and heritage.

 

 

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LABOUR

While there is little detail in its manifesto, the tone the Labour Party set out for the arts and culture is a positive one.

“With Labour, the arts and music will no longer be the preserve of a privileged few.” the manifesto states, adding,

“Culture is an essential part of supporting children and young people to develop creativity and find their voice.”

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While earlier this year in a policy paper Labour promised that it will support,

“publicly-funded national museums and galleries to increase their regional and national engagement and loans to public spaces”.

“improve access to cultural assets by requiring publicly funded national museums and galleries to increase the loans they make from their collections”.

To assist in this process, and to remove one of the reasons given for the selling off of artefacts and art works from public collections, Labour also undertake to develop a Government Indemnity Scheme to make insuring collections and exhibits simpler and cheaper.

On the adjacent and critical issue of funding, in common with much else in the party’s manifesto, Labour looks to developing a mixed economy, whereby Government will,

“…collaborate with the sector, the Creative Industries Council, arts councils and other public funders, investors and donors to create a private finance model or models to attract more funding from different sources into arts organisations and put them on a more sustainable footing”.

It is in the area of planning that archaeologists may have most concern about what Labour proposes.

The party claims that,

“The current planning regime acts as a major brake on economic growth.”

…and it promises reforms which are understood to include funding hundreds of new planning officers to help speed up planning decisions and a revision of the National Planning Policy Framework which could be published for consultation as
soon as July should Labour win the General Election.

While welcoming Labour’s commitment to protecting the Green Belt and taking a more strategic view of planning in Green Belt areas some environmental groups including the CPRE, are concerned that Labour’s stated aim of reviewing the use of what it describes as “low quality Green Belt”, and speeding up infrastructure projects could become damagingly permissive unless linked to a holistic view of the environment encompassing a view of land use taking in the needs of farming, conservation and effective responses to climate change
as well as necessary development, especially the building of affordable homes in places they are needed.

Labour also undertake to ensure Local Planning Authorities have up to date local plans and also to revise and strengthen the presumption in
favour of sustainable development.

THE CONSERVATIVES

The Conservatives state the party will ““always protect our national heritage – including statues, monuments and memorials”, adding

“We will keep our ‘retain and explain’ guidance under review to ensure it supports custodians in the preservation of our national
history and heritage.”

Like Labour the Conservatives seek to promote the use of philanthropic funding stating,

“We will continue to support museums and libraries across the country. Government has the power to leverage philanthropy for good causes and cultural institutions. We will work with individuals, businesses, charities and other networks to find opportunities
to unleash this even further.”

One specific programme the Conservatives promise is a Seaside Heritage Fund designed

“to support enhancements to our seaside heritage, preserving and restoring our coastal assets”.

[And also to support the party’s base vote in vulnerable seaside constituencies like Clacton?]

On planning the Party support and prioritise Brownfield First and urban densification before development on the Green Belt.

The Conservatives state,

“Our national planning protections mean there is never any top-down requirement for councils to remove Green Belt protection and these will remain in place.”

There will also be a

“…fast- track route through the planning system for new homes on previously developed land in the 20 largest cities.”

London, Leeds, Liverpool, York and Cambridge are mentioned specifically as the targets for specific action on new housing.

On education the Conservatives state that,

“Courses that have excessive drop-out rates or leave students worse off than had they not gone to university will be prevented from recruiting students by the universities regulator. This will protect students from being missold and the taxpayer from having to pay where the graduate can’t.”

There are fears this would disproportionately impact on humanities courses and courses such as archaeology which feed into sectors where pay and career paths are limited.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

The National Lottery funds many heritage programmes from community archaeology to major building restorations usually in partnership with other funding bodies and the Liberal Democrats undertake to,

“maintain free access to national museums and galleries”, while also protecting arts funding “via the National Lottery”.

The party also places its cultural offer in context, stating,

“The UK’s rich and vibrant cultural heritage is a national treasure. Our creative and tourism industries contribute billions of pounds to our economy and employ millions of people. Art, music, drama and sports bring people together. They are an essential part of a thriving society.”

The manifesto acknowledges also that the Covid pandemic “hit culture and tourism businesses extremely hard”.

That is a point made also in the recent “On the Brink” report from the Heritage Alliance with the Alliance calling for an extension of post Covid recovery funding to secure the sector from further damage.

The Liberal democrats score a party political point alleging that,

“Instead of helping, the Conservatives have only inflicted even more damage. They have downgraded the status of arts subjects at school, slashed funding for them at university, and erected new barriers to British musicians and actors performing elsewhere in Europe following our withdrawal from the EU.”

In response the party promises to “invest in our cultural capital and nurture the next generation of talent”, stating:

“We will support the creative and tourism industries across the UK so that businesses can thrive and people everywhere can enjoy the benefits of sports, music and the arts.”

The Liberal Democrats also promise to reform the Land Compensation Act and introduce greater flexibility in the fees for planning applications as well as to developing ten new Garden Cities.

There are also commitments to develop comprehensive land and sea use plans and to properly fund local planning departments.

THE GREEN PARTY

Arguably to the left of Labour and the Liberal Democrats the Green Party state,

“Arts, culture and sports are central to people’s mental and physical wellbeing, and to thriving communities. They also make a huge contribution to the UK economy.”

In pursuit of this the Greens state they will invest £5bn in community sport, arts and culture.

They also intend to support and make thrive, local sports facilities, museums, theatres, libraries and art galleries which have suffered greatly from the loss of funding in recent years.

In another practical effort to make the arts and culture more affordable the Greens promise to remove VAT from tickets for cultural activities including museum exhibitions.

REFORM UK LTD

Offering a contract with Britain instead of a more traditional manifesto, the principal statement Reform makes regarding heritage is to introduce,

“A Patriotic Curriculum in Primary and Secondary Schools Any teaching about a period or example of British or European imperialism or slavery must be paired with the teaching of a non-European occurrence of the same to ensure balance. History and social science curriculum to be reviewed and audited regularly to ensure balance. Our children must be
taught about their heritage.”

Reform also state that in the first 100 days of a Reform Government the party would introduce,

“Fast-track planning and tax incentives for development of brownfield sites.” and what it describes as  “‘Loose fit planning’ policy for large residential developments with preapproved guidelines and developer requirements.”

Of the parties in the UK Regions…

THE SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY & NORTHERN IRELAND PARTIES

The SNP say little about culture and heritage in a manifestos which is mainly focussed on the economy, cost of living issues, and the impact of Brexit. Culture is a devolved issue and the area is covered more fully in manifestos for elections to the Scottish Parliament.

However, the party does commit to combating austerity cuts driven from Westminster which logically would include cuts to museums, galleries and cultural services.

There is one specific commitment which would be welcome in the heritage building sector and that is an undertaking to

“…introduce a lower rate of VAT for hospitality and tourism sectors, [and] address the imbalance in VAT rates in the construction sector to encourage the
refurbishment and retrofitting of existing buildings…”

The latter especially has long been a request from the heritage sector.

Similarly the Northern Ireland parties such as Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionists tend to keep their main cultural offers for local elections where the devolved powers of the Stormont Assembly come into play. It is also the case that with four parties in coalition at Stormont and with budgets very tight, large infrastructure projects are rare and difficult to deliver. However, on the agenda are improvements to the A5 and A6 roads, extensions to Ulster University and A controversial redevelopment of Casement Park Stadium.

However, in Wales Plaid Cymru do offer some specific proposals,

PLAID CYMRU

Plaid Cymru state its core beliefs in terms of the Arts and Culture, including Heritage, are as follows,

“Plaid Cymru believes that the arts are for everybody and that our organisations should continue to provide greater support and opportunities
for everybody to engage with them and participate, irrespective of their background.”

“This requires partnerships between stakeholders to foster relationships between locally based cultural activities and our national institutions.”

“Wales should also be a host to high quality cultural organisations, which celebrate our history and heritage, and reflect the realities
of life in Wales. There should be no reason to sacrifice quality in order to ensure access for all.”

In terms of detail Plaid state that,

“A number of important and significant Welsh artefacts are held outside Wales, such as the Mold Gold Cape, the Moel Hebog Shield and the portrait of John Ystumllyn.” adding,

“Plaid Cymru believes that these should be returned to Wales and used in a way which benefits the nation from which they originate, rather
than be held elsewhere.”

In a nod to the arguments about the Parthenon Marbles and Benin Bronzes in the British Museum and other contested artefacts, Plaid extend the argument to state,

“We believe that this principle applies to other artefacts which were removed from their original country and are now hosted elsewhere.”

Plaid add,

“We remain committed to the policy of free entry to our national museums” and on that note undertake to promote the Football Museum for Wales in Wrexham and the Welsh National Gallery of Contemporary Art.”

 

 

 

 

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