On Wednesday 2nd April 2011, the Council for British Archaeology announced that the British Academy will be phasing out their grant funding to the CBA over the next five years. This will amount to a cut of £306,000, a 25% reduction in the CBA’s entire income. In a statement, CBA President Dr Kate Pretty CBE said:
We deeply regret the British Academy decision to cut funding to the CBA, particularly as this decision was not forced by reductions in its own grant from Government, but was a strategic choice by the Academy in spite of their praise for the continuing high standard of our work. (source)
This is bad news for archaeology in the UK. The CBA are a highly active, highly relevant organisation, who work hard to increase the accessibility and relevance of archaeology to everyone. From running the Young Archaeologists Club to campaigning for changes to legislation in Parliament, as well as publishing the excellent archaeology magazine British Archaeology, the list of their objectives goes on and on.
Obviously, any form of financial cuts will mean that the CBA will have to look very closely about the scope of what they do, staff, administration, etc. New ways will have to be found to make up the shortfall, and this will take time. I wish them all the luck in doing this.
There are hard times for all who work in heritage. I am worried about the perceived relevance of heritage by those in positions of power. That the CBA’s cuts were “..a strategic choice by the Academy in spite of their praise for the continuing high standard of our [the CBA's] work” is particularly worrying. When asked, most people seem to love heritage, but when it comes to financial backing, suddenly it’s not quite so important.
When I look back at things like the failure of the Heritage Protection Bill to be passed, and the difficulties in approving the new facilities for a major heritage attraction such as Stonehenge, the current rounds of cuts to English Heritage (32%), museums and county archaeology services, I can’t but help think that something isn’t quite right.
We have a lot of work to do in archaeology and the heritage sector in general. I’ve touched on the subject of value in the last two talks that I have given, and I feel that the only way forward is for a joined-up concerted effort to make our work more relevant, and more accessible. Only when we are genuinely valued by more people, will we stand a chance to receive proper funding to do more and better work. The CBA are champions of our message, which makes their budget cuts even more unfortunate for heritage in general.
Thinking about all this, I find the remarks made by Prime Minister David Cameron in August 2010 even more galling:
Mr Cameron said tourism should focus more on national parks, seaside towns, heritage sites such as castles and country houses, museums, galleries, theatres and festivals.
He told an audience of industry experts at the Serpentine Gallery in Kensington Gardens: “We should be proud of our potential because we are proud of our country and what it has to offer. I love going on holiday in Britain.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-10950167)
According to the BBC article, tourism brings in £115 billion a year to the UK economy, and our heritage is one of the major draws for visitors. If the government want to increase the level of tourism, they’ve got a funny way of going about it.
So, good luck to the CBA in finding a way to make up the shortfall, and to all who work in heritage, it’s time we think long and hard about how to make ourselves more relevant, more visible, and more valued.
I’ll expand further on my ideas of value in a following blog post, so in the meantime, visit the Council for British Archaeology’s website, become a member, subscribe to their excellent magazine, British Archaeology, and let’s start thinking of the future and how we can change things for the better.