Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology

Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate

7 February 2017

Thank you, Presiding Officer. We, too, celebrate Scotlandís year of history, heritage and archaeology.

The physical artefacts of past generations are worth conserving not just for their potential to generate visitor spend, which they do, but because they are important in their own right.

None of it, however, comes for free.

Part of the Scottish Governmentís responsibility in 2017 is to ensure that the relevant agencies are able to make the necessary investments, and another part of that responsibility is to strengthen the working relationships in the field between central Government agencies and local councils.

Mr Stewart highlighted the role of VisitScotland, which is the lead agency for promoting tourism as a sector.

Once again, it is having to plan its annual marketing expenditure with a real-terms budget cut.

It is confident that it will be able to do that, but that is nonetheless an important point.

Historic Environment Scotland, which is the product of a very recent merger of two distinct public agencies, is still seeking to find stability after a period of some difficulty, with no additional funding in real terms.

Fiona Hyslop: Is the member aware that, in the 2017-18 budget, Historic Environment Scotlandís budget rises by 3.95 per cent? Does he recognise that VisitScotlandís written evidence on the budget states that it is pleased that its budget for the next financial year will be maintained at £43.9 million, which is exactly the same level as the budget for 2016-17? That is a challenge but, in a tight budget settlement, that has been received as a good result for both the tourism and heritage sectors.

Lewis Macdonald: I have no doubt that both agencies will do their level best to ensure that they deliver against their responsibilities in the face of the budget constraints that the cabinet secretary describes, but it is important, in seeking to make the most of a themed year such as the one that we are discussing, that we recognise that it will not happen by itself and that it will require expenditure by public authorities.

The Government has an overall role in promoting the themed year, but it also has a role in ensuring that the resources that are required are provided.

I turn to Scotlandís councils, because they are facing a substantial cut in their budgets for the next financial year, which can only add to the pressure on those aspects of Scotlandís heritage sector for which they are responsible. This Parliament now has the power to consider a tourism levy, which councils might use to fund investment in visitor attractions and events, and the power to vary income tax, which councils might use to support local public services.

Those will be matters for debate in the budget debate on Thursday rather than today, but if ministers agree that a world-class heritage sector requires adequate resources, part of their job is to ensure that they find the means to deliver those resources where they are required.

Local authorities fund many of the museums and galleries that are many peopleís first points of contact for the culture and heritage of their local area, and they are key partners in supporting many of the destination management organisations and city centre business improvement districts that pull together public and private sector partners to put their local areas on the visitor map.

Councils also employ archaeologists, who have what, in the words of the current chair of their association, ďcan be argued to be the biggest role in protecting Scotlandís heritageĒ.

Bruce Mann has said that, among many other things, their job is to assess every planning application for its impact on the historic environment; to provide guidance to landowners and developers; to support community projects; and to lead large teams of volunteers in excavating sites.

Mr Mann reckons that he and his peers are responsible for managing 90 per cent of Scotlandís historic environment and around 290,000 sites, and that, last year alone, they generated more than 1,600 projects across the country.

That is just one of the council services that are vital if our historic environment is to be protected and which create added value of their own.

It is clear that the direct employment of our professional archaeologists might be at greater risk if a council faces the prospect of having to make wide-ranging cuts in services, as many are likely to do this year.

Despite the professional dedication of those archaeologists, the capacity of local councils to employ members of that profession has fallen in recent years as a result of funding issues.

It is important that councils are supported to make the capital investments that are needed to sustain the quality of the museums and galleries estate.

Both the Scottish Government and the United Kingdom Government can help in that and act as funders for projects such as the refurbishment of existing buildings and the development of new projects.

The Heritage Lottery Fund has, of course, a substantial role in working with both central and local government agencies.

European funding has been significant in many such projects in recent years.

Fiona Hyslop: I very much appreciate the point that Lewis Macdonald is making. Funding from the Scottish Government can quite often come early or late in a project. Amazing work has been happening at the Kelvin hall. There is funding from the Scottish Government already, and provision by the National Library of Scotland; there is also the roof project, which will free up additional space. That is very important capital funding that complements the work of Glasgow Life and Glasgow City Council.

Lewis Macdonald: I absolutely recognise that.

To refer to my city, I recognise Scottish Government support for the refurbishment of Aberdeen music hall, but I remind the cabinet secretary that there has not been the same support for the refurbishment of Aberdeen art gallery, which is part of the estate.

I understand that the Government cannot support every project and that it has to make decisions and choices, but when we look at the context of those choices, we need to recognise that all those sources of funding can be significant.

Many of Scotlandís European structural funds for the current programme period have yet to be drawn down.

I hope that ministers can provide certainty about spending the currently available funds and future plans.

I think that we all recognise that Historic Environment Scotland has faced challenges in getting to grips with its very broad remit since it was created by the merger of Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

The success of that merger faced real challenges as the new agency struggled to find its feet and achieve effective partnership working with other public bodies.

It is clearly important that public bodies are able to work together to solve problems before the point is reached at which a significant site can be closed to visits by the publicóthe cabinet secretary will recall that that happened at Maeshowe last year.

Working together takes leadership, and in the field in question that leadership must come from Historic Environment Scotland.

It is now for the agency and its new chief executive, Alex Paterson, to provide such leadership and to move ahead in a spirit of active co-operation with local councils and other partners.

The challenge for the Government is not just aroundó

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am sorry, but I ask you to close very shortly. Thank you.

Lewis Macdonald: The challenge for the Scottish Government is not just to support Historic Environment Scotland and other public agencies, of course; it is also to ensure that all our public visitor spaces and all the places that we know about and which have been mentioned are given support, whether they belong directly to Government agencies or to local government, or operate in the private sector or the charitable sector. Many of our key sites in Scotland are notó

The Deputy Presiding Officer: I am sorry, but you must close. You have had an extra two minutes. Please move your amendment.

Lewis Macdonald: Thank you for your indulgence, Presiding Officer.

I move my amendment with the present, the future and the past in mind.

I move amendment S5M-03748.1, to insert at end: ď, and considers that adequate funding of local authorities, Historic Environment Scotland and other relevant agencies will be essential to maintain the quality and accessibility of museums, galleries and heritage sites in 2017 and beyond.Ē

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