Policy Round-Up: January 2021
Happy New Year from the policy team. Although this first month of 2021 has seen all parts of the UK enter new national lockdowns, we have been able to hit the ground running with a packed schedule of (virtual) ministerial meetings, Budget submissions, consultation responses and cross-sector roundtables. January is usually a fairly quiet time for our member houses and gardens, but this year is of course quieter than most; some of our members’ gardens remain open to provide space for local people’s daily exercise, but many have remained closed. The ongoing uncertainty also continues to create extremely challenging conditions for wedding and events venues. However, the news that advance accommodation bookings are starting to pick up does indicate some optimism for the year ahead.
In mid-January we submitted our formal representation to the Treasury’s Budget portal (ahead of the Budget on 3 March), putting forward various fiscal measures the Government could take up to kickstart recovery in the heritage sector – including extending the VAT reduction for attractions, reducing VAT on the repair and maintenance of listed buildings, extending the business rates holiday, reducing income tax on Heritage Maintenance Funds, and lifting the cap on Sideways Loss Relief. Another opportunity for helpful change could lie in the ‘Heritage Recovery Plan’ that the UK Heritage Minister, Nigel Huddleston, is preparing at DCMS. In mid-January our President Martha Lytton-Cobbold wrote to the Heritage Minister to set out a comprehensive list of the key policies we think ought to be included in a Heritage Recovery Plan. As well as our fiscal and funding priorities, top of our list are further Covid-19 support measures, practical planning and regulatory reforms, and targeted support for the weddings and events industries. Martha will be meeting the Minister in February to discuss our proposals in more detail.
In Scotland, we met with the SNP manifesto team this month to feed in our ideas for a heritage-led recovery ahead of the Holyrood elections (currently planned for May) – including better partnerships with charitable and public sector heritage organisations, investment in off grid energy sources and appropriate historical retrofit, and greater support for the struggling weddings sector. We were pleased to see some of our priorities were reflected in the Scottish Budget, which included a commitment to upgrading digital and transport infrastructure across Scotland, a problem which has long isolated rural heritage sites. Significantly, the Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund will be doubled to £6.2m, and the Scottish Government will commit to implementing various recommendations from the Tourism Taskforce Report, with funding for Highlands and Islands Enterprise and South of Scotland Enterprise will be increased by £17m.
Also this month, we joined colleagues from the Historic Environment Forum to kick off cross sector plans ahead of COP26, to speak with one voice on the important role of heritage in climate recovery. We learnt this month that the G7 summit will be hosted in Cornwall at Tregenna Castle and the National Maritime Museum, creating an opportunity to draw attention to climate threats to the historic environment, and the ability of heritage sites to adapt and survive. We have also been busy developing our own year-long sustainability project, which will launch in March – look out for plenty of social media content about our members houses’ pioneering work in rewilding, eco-tourism and renewable energy.
Finally, the results of our December policy survey have revealed the full impact of 2020 for Historic Houses member places – turnover has halved, with total losses estimated at around £270 million, and most places open to the public received just a quarter of their usual visitor numbers in 2020. Unfortunately this means that thousands of jobs have been lost, and essential repairs and maintenance activity has been postponed. However, we also learnt that most of our member houses and gardens are feeling optimistic about prospects in 2021, and half have either already diversified their business models in light of Covid-19, or have plans to do so.
As we look ahead to what we very much hope will be a better year for tourism and hospitality in 2021, we have also been able to look back at what Historic Houses achieved in 2020 in our Year In Review. Despite the unprecedented circumstances, we managed to send 159 ‘daily’ Covid email updates, carry out 60 high level political meetings, submit 22 consultation responses to government, set up two new UK-wide advice hubs on our website, and respond to thousands of member enquiries.
With the vaccine rollout accelerating across the country, we remain hopeful that February will bring a clearer idea of the timeframe for reopening the all-important visitor and events economy.
Emma and Lydia, the policy team
Photo: The Gardens at Drummond blanketed in snow, by Katielee Arrowsmith