LORDS

Lords say DCMS failing to lead heritage science community

11 May 2012

Need to protect £7.4bn contribution by heritage tourism to the UK economy justifies greater Government priority for heritage science.

The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee has today called upon the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to provide adequate leadership for heritage science.

In its report Science and Heritage: a follow-up the Committee cites research that heritage tourism contributes £7.4 billion a year to the UK economy and supports 195, 000 full time equivalent jobs. The Committee argues that sustaining that contribution requires the UK to have the heritage science capacity to maintain the UK’s movable and immovable heritage such as museum, library, archive and gallery collections and historic buildings. Maintaining that capacity requires greater leadership by DCMS.

In many respects, the follow-up report presents a good news story. The recommendations made in the Committee’s first report on heritage science (published in 2006) received a positive response, and their impact has been significant and lasting: the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have developed a joint Science and Heritage Programme, and the heritage science community have published a National Heritage Science Strategy and appointed a National Heritage Science Forum. Today’s report welcomes these developments and says they have done much to build capacity and develop networks within the heritage science community.

The Committee, however, heard concerns that senior heritage scientist posts are being lost and that the sustainability of UK heritage science capacity is at risk. It recommends that the AHRC and National Heritage Science Forum should together measure capacity and address any issues arising.

Whilst acknowledging the role of the heritage science community and improvements in this area since 2006, the Committee remains concerned about the approach of DCMS to heritage science. As a result, today’s report calls on DCMS to take action to ensure that heritage science is given the priority it deserves. Recommendations in the report include:

  • that DCMS should appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser without further delay. The post has been vacant since 2010 and failure to rectify this would, according to the Committee, amount to “negligent short-termism”; and
  • that DCMS should set departmental objectives for heritage science related to its departmental responsibility to “protect our national cultural heritage” and DCMS arm’s length bodies (such as the national museums and galleries, and English Heritage) should set out how they will help achieve these objectives.

Commenting on the report Lord Krebs, Chairman of the Lords Science and Technology Committee, said:

"Heritage science is vital to the maintenance of the UK’s unique historical buildings and world leading cultural collections. We are told that more than 50% of tourists to the UK cite history and culture as major factors in deciding to holiday here - DCMS must ensure that the UK’s cultural heritage is preserved by providing leadership for heritage science.

Heritage tourism contributes £7.4bn to the UK economy each year. Any failure to plan for and invest in heritage science is clearly a false economy.

Whilst there have been some improvements in this area since 2006, we welcome for example the establishment of the Science and Heritage Programme, DCMS could still do more. For the department to lack a Chief Scientific Adviser for 2 years is inexcusable. DCMS must appoint a CSA and set clear objectives for heritage science. Failure to do so would be to neglect its departmental responsibilities and, as our reports concludes, 'would amount to negligent short-termism'."

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