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Heritage

January 25, 2007

Heritage

Westminster Hall Debate

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con): I fear that I would have to give 103 examples from my constituency, which I suspect gets more from the Heritage Lottery Fund than any other body. I suspect that my hon. Friend will be coming to my point in his next few paragraphs, but although there are assurances from the Government about the 16.6 per cent. that will be taken into the HLF, given the emergence of the Big Lottery Fund surely the big issue is not so much whether it will have the same slice of the cake but how big that cake will be given our commitments to the Olympic games. Does my hon. Friend have any observations on that matter on behalf of his Committee that might help to inform the debate?

Mr. Whittingdale: My hon. Friend is entirely right. That is the exact subject that I want to come on to and the Committee has some strong views on that.

The concern is about future funding. We already know that the funds available to the HLF will decline significantly. The establishment of an Olympic game will, we believe, cost the HLF some £75 million and the additional amount which it has been announced will be taken out of the main lottery will remove £68 million over four years from lottery funds. The HLF’s ability to fund projects in future will be considerably affected by that. The fund has made it clear to us that in the main large grants are likely to be cut. That is a matter of some concern. When we published our report, we said specifically that the Government should undertake that no more should be taken away from the original good causes to fund a possible increase in costs of the Olympics.

Since the report was published, we have had a second inquiry into the Olympics and we know, because the Secretary of State came and told us, that costs have already gone up by £900 million. We are awaiting a decision from the Government on how that money will be found. The Secretary of State gave us a strong steer in our session that she was looking to the lottery to make a big contribution, if not to meet the entire overspend. That is a matter of concern to us. There is no doubt that if the lottery has to go on giving more and more to meet the costs of the Olympics, its ability to fund other good causes will be severely affected. It risks doing real damage to all of those other areas?the arts, sport outside of the Olympics, charities and particularly the area that we are debating today, the heritage. Again, I do not expect the Minister to give a commitment, but I hope that he will at least take on board our strong view that it is not appropriate for the lottery to fund any more of the Olympic games than is already proposed.

I turn to the other big player in heritage matters, and perhaps the biggest?local authorities. They are doubtless at the sharp end in delivering heritage protection, and they have the key responsibilities. There is a huge variation between authorities in the degree of expertise that is available to them, the resources that they can put into heritage matters and the priority that they can give to it. Not all authorities employ conservation officers, and we are concerned that that position may deteriorate because, as the officers reach retirement age, they may not be replaced.

Our first recommendation was that more information is needed about the number of authorities that have conservation expertise, and about the extent to which that can be expected to increase or diminish in coming years. That is particularly important given that the main thrust of the heritage protection review will be to place new responsibilities on local authorities.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I commend my hon. Friend for the excellent way in which he chairs the Select Committee. Would he agree that world heritage sites can place a huge burden on local authorities such as Saltaire in my constituency? Does he agree that our recommendation that regional development agencies should do more to support local authorities is important in ensuring the funding necessary to support them properly? For instance, Yorkshire Forward in my area could do an awful lot more to support Bradford council, helping it with extra money to preserve our world heritage site.

Mr. Whittingdale: In return, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who was assiduous in drawing our attention to the particular challenges faced by those authorities that have world heritage sites within their boundaries. It clearly is a difficulty. My hon. Friend is right to say that we believe that regional development agencies could help shoulder the burden. It is a wonderful thing to have a world heritage site close by, but it brings with it considerable costs and responsibilities. It seems unfair that a small authority should be expected to meet them all.

The general requirements on local authorities include maintaining historic environment records and establishing heritage partnership agreements with English Heritage. We are concerned that some authorities will not give priority to the heritage, and we believe that a case can be made for it becoming a statutory responsibility in some areas, as it may be the only way to ensure that they are properly resourced. Without doubt, the new responsibilities will bring significant extra costs.

The Minister told us of the compact that exists whereby, if the Government place extra burdens on local authorities, resources will be provided to meet them. If the heritage review is to work, it will need to be properly financed. I should be grateful if the Minister were to assure us that local authorities will receive the funding necessary to meet their new responsibilities.

Mr. Mark Field: I thank my hon. Friend for generously giving way a second time. He appreciates, as we all do, the massive constraints on local government finance. However, if we are to believe in localism, we must also realise how important it is to avoid the passporting that has been the tendency over the past 20 years?under Conservative and Labour Governments. Does my hon. Friend recognise that realistically the money needs to come from central Government? The connection between a thriving heritage sector and a tourism industry that is worth £75 billion a year is crucial to the country.