Prospect’s 2014 report, Heritage in a cold climate, described the difficulties faced by the sector. Two years on, a lot of good work had been done with government and funding bodies he said.
The economic benefits of heritage have been well-demonstrated and enshrined in the union’s Heritage High Five campaign ie every £1 invested generates £5 for the wider economy.
The benefits are not just economic – they include health, well-being, education and social cohesion.
Despite all the evidence, there is still work to be done to persuade the government that this sector needs investment. Although the latest funding announcement announced a flat cash settlement for heritage, it still represents a cut in real terms. Institutions are still squeezing pay and terms and conditions.
The position is even worse in local government with hundreds of librarians lost and reduced hours and services across local museums and galleries.
“Staff are unable to make ends meet and lots of people are leaving the sector. This creates a gap in skills, knowledge and expertise and puts our cultural heritage at risk,” he added.
Angela Gannon (Historic Environment Scotland) asked “What is heritage and why is important?
“It gives us our identitites, irrespective of whether that’s local, regional or national. It defines our culture and is important for our sense of belonging. Whether that’s eating your kippers in your kilt in Tulloch or enjoying your clotted cream scone in Cornwall.”
She said heritage was more than a visit to a museum or gallery. “The staff behind the scenes are the unsung heroes. They are passionate people who care and they need your support.”
Speaking on behalf of the executive, national secretary Alan Leighton paid tribute to the hard work of the British Library branch.
The sector had been under continuous attack by successive governments over the years, he said. One example being the attempt to close the Imperial War Museum’s library and education services. That the library was saved showed the importance of campaign activity.
Prospect needs to be proactive in running campaigns, producing reports and organising seminars involving members from in and outside the sector.
But he highlighted further challenges facing the sector. The chancellor has granted freedom to certain heritage organisations not to open the pension scheme to new entrants.
Delegates backed the motion instructing the executive to:
- continue to support heritage and work with the Heritage Group to do all it can to fight spending cuts in the sector
- safeguard the jobs of members working in heritage;
- lead the fight to protect services and national treasures for future generations and
- raise awareness of the problems faced through increased campaigning.