Speaking at the TUC annual conference in Liverpool, Prospect’s deputy general secretary, Leslie Manasseh, laid out the social and economic benefits of the UK’s heritage.
“The UK’s heritage – museums, galleries, heritage sites, historic gardens and unique library collections – is a precious resource,” he said.
“It is a massive success story with many and varied benefits – from the health and well-being of individuals who can enjoy it, to the cash it brings to the UK’s bank account.”
He told delegates that the sector:
- provides leisure and learning opportunities for millions
- is a showcase for internationally acclaimed science and creativity
- is the source of wonder and enjoyment for many millions
- provides jobs for many thousands of people, and
- is a huge boost for the UK’s global reputation.
“Despite this, it is under threat from a government which loudly proclaims the value to society of a thriving world of arts and culture, but whose actions represent death by a thousand cuts,” Manasseh said.
“The austerity programme has been eating into the foundations of institutions which have taken centuries to build.
“It shows government indifference to the value of ordinary peoples’ lives that an affordable and accessible world of arts and culture brings.
“It also shows the hypocrisy of a government that praises learning and education while it closes down options for ordinary people to explore, experience and enjoy our cultural heritage,” he added.
Manasseh pointed to studies that show how arts and culture improve social inclusion and cohesion by helping us understand different cultures and histories. He urged delegates to read Prospect’s report, Heritage in a cold climate, which explains what is happening to its members employed in the sector.
“When I talk of our cultural heritage I mean the Black Cultural Archive in Brixton as much as the Natural History Museum in South Kensington or the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Each is unique, each deserves public funding.”
Manasseh outlined the scale of the problems in the sector:
- many arts and heritage-based organisations are closing because funding has dried up – with regional bodies particularly at risk
- services across the board are being reduced – community outreach work is often the first to suffer
- increased charges are being introduced, thereby reducing access.
- vital research is being mothballed
- jobs, skills and expertise are being irrevocably lost, and
- morale among heritage staff is at an all-time low.
Prospect members at the British Library, faced with a pay freeze and cuts in services, took their protest to the public today. Our short video shows them handing out leaflets during their lunch breaks.
The economic case for decent heritage funding
Manasseh pointed to the economic evidence that funding cuts make no sense:
- an Oxford Economics investigation concluded that every £1 invested in culture and heritage delivers £5 in value to society
- the heritage sector accounts for around £5bn in GDP through tourism, and it sustains hundreds of thousands of jobs – jobs held by skilled, passionate and committed people.
“The value of that heritage lies not only in the quality of world class institutions, but in the breadth and diversity of the sector as a whole.
“Not every museum, art exhibition, library or heritage site engages everybody. But the point is to offer choice and opportunities so that people can sample a range of options. We have to try things before we know what we like. That’s one measure of the quality of our life in the 21st century.
“We all know the benefits of exploring culture, being able to see the rarest of great works of art, walking in the footsteps of history and enjoying unique gardens. We don’t need evidence to tell us that this is good for us,” he added.
“A major part of our world is disappearing bit by bit. We must not let that happen,” he concluded.