HERITAGE REVIEW POSTPONED
It is said the review was abandoned early in the process because the subject was too complex. In the event the service is targeted to produce savings of £225,000 by the end of 2012, including £75,000 saved this year, which is close to the 30% level the council is looking for in overall savings. Around 300 public consultation returns inevitably expressed an overriding view that heritage facilities should remain within local council control. The various departmental submissions and associated documents suggest this is unlikely.
Documents, submissions and public consultation returns were assembled in preparation for the October Heritage Service Review, intended to arrive at a detailed level of savings. The review was postponed, leaving the overall level of cut to be established without scrutiny. The service now has the job of arriving at measures to meet the cut.
The council has no statutory obligation to maintain museums. Cowes Maritime Museum is already set for closure along with the library. The future of the Guildhall Museum is bound up with the future of the building itself, also under review. An immediate problem will arise in staffing the entrance because this is currently dealt with by the doomed tourist information section.
Newport Roman Villa would appear to have limited options for savings, beyond being passed to a private concern or trust. Visitor numbers do not make for an attractive commercial proposition, although recent improvements leave it as a fine facility. One consideration has to be whether its education facility would be maintained. At present schools make extensive use of the museum and these visits are subsidised by the villa.
A decision on the Dinosaur Museum has already been reached. It is proposed it be passed to a trust, presumably run by the present management. The council claim a charity concern should be viable when relieved of the high business rate. This decision would seem to yield little benefit to the authority, particularly in the short term. The council subsidy is a modest £25,000, a saving that could easily be neutralised by the cost of a complex transfer process, particularly if consultants are involved.
It may prove difficult for the council to relinquish ownership of exhibits along with a museum, so they will probably be passed on loan.
The Archaeology Unit has never really recovered from the extraordinary cut it received in the 2006 budget. This was unofficially instigated at a personal level by the council leadership in an apparent fit of pique; an act nobody would own up to. The result was a bizarre 'ghost' cut that verged on misconduct.
Archaeology is largely directed by English Heritage, much of which has statutory implications. It is also inextricably linked with the planning process. Most of the latter is dealt with within the Planning Dept but the Archaeology Unit carry out some associated work. The council are considering amalgamating some planning with Portsmouth and Southampton and this may have an impact on local archaeology. However it's difficult to imagine how archaeology can contribute to Island culture without local knowledge and local contacts.
Record Office and Archives
Artifacts are mainly held at Cothey Bottom, near Ryde, many of which are contained in environmentally controlled conditions. Outsourcing of the facility is being considered, perhaps involving the same premises. An alternative location providing the same controlled conditions is unlikely to exist on the Island.
Paper archives have been problematic for some time and the present crisis arises not through cuts but from a failure to address the problem over many years. An inspection of Record Office facilities by National Archives, due in April, is sure to condemn the existing conditions as unsuitable. This will result in the council having to find alternative arrangements for some documents. Essentially the options are a new location or, more likely, transferring documents to another county. Fortunately National Archives will only require official documents to be moved. Some of these are of historical importance but the bulk of the historical archive will remain in place, albeit in conditions established as unsuitable. The whole question of archives is complicated by the fact many items are not owned by the council but permanently on loan.
The Record Office will remain an essential public service, although the degree of availability and charges offered by the service are sure to come under consideration.
Councillors are generally attracted to the calling through an abiding interest in the authority's major services. It would be difficult to find a member with an interest in subjects like history or archaeology, and there is public concern that the 50% cut to the library service reflects a culturally challenged council hierarchy. In the circumstances a 30% saving in the Heritage Service might not seem a bad deal. It will almost certainly result in cuts that put some public pursuits at a disadvantage, although hopefully without the complete loss of any core facilities.