Policy Round-Up: November 2020
November saw the biggest event in the Historic Houses calendar go digital, as hundreds of members and stakeholders tuned in to our virtual national AGM. We were delighted to be joined by the Heritage Minister, Nigel Huddleston MP, and in particular to hear him reiterate his support for our work on tax reform – including reforming VAT, Heritage Maintenance Funds and Sideways Loss Relief. This year’s AGM also saw James Birch’s final speech as our outgoing President, as we welcomed Martha Lytton Cobbold of Knebworth House as our new President for the next four years.
Later in the month we joined together with representatives from across the sector for the annual Heritage Debate, hosted by the Heritage Alliance and co-chaired by Daniella Briscoe-Peaple, who began her career in the heritage sector here at Historic Houses. With previous years focusing on net zero, diversity, and health and wellbeing, the debate this year turned to the role of young people in heritage. At a time when 16-24 year-olds are the least likely age group to visit a heritage venue, a panel of experts discussed how historic sites can break down barriers to reach young people as audiences and collaborators. Creative new engagement strategies range from incorporating digital exhibits, to uncovering ‘hidden histories’, to even joining in TikTok challenges. If you are interested in doing more in this area, the Heritage Lottery Fund has published a practical guide on involving young people in heritage projects, which you can read here. You can also email us to get in touch with our learning advisory panel, who can offer bespoke advice and educational resources free of charge to member houses.
This month the Chancellor presented his Spending Review to the House of Commons, which included continued delivery of Covid-19 business loans, a freeze in the business rates multiplier in 2021-22, and a £4bn ‘Levelling Up Fund’ to finance local infrastructure improvement projects which encourage ‘a sense of pride in place’. The government is also considering options for further Covid-19 related support through business rates reliefs, and will outline plans for 2021-22 reliefs in the New Year. The Chancellor also announced an additional cash boost of £2.4bn for the Scottish Government, £1.3bn for the Welsh Government and an additional £400m for Northern Ireland’s Covid response.
The Government is expected to set out how these measures will be paid for in the next Budget, expected in March 2021. There continue to be reports that the Treasury might raise money by making changes to Capital Gains Tax, pensions relief or self-employment taxes, whilst others predict hikes in VAT, income tax and National Insurance. With inevitable uncertainty ahead, we continue to lobby hard to protect independent heritage from damaging tax rises. To that end, this month we launched a new policy survey, which we have commissioned to capture the ongoing impact of the pandemic on our members. We hope to have a finalised report with a robust evidence base by the new year, in preparation for our submissions ahead of the Spring Budget and into 2021.
Whilst England has been in a national lockdown this month and restrictions have tightened across the UK, we’ve been lobbying to clarify government advice for the Christmas period. We have secured confirmation that indoor tour groups will be able to continue in Tiers 1 and 2 in England, and that outdoor carol singing and Christmas light trails will be able to continue across all tiers (with the necessary Covid-secure precautions in place). With the announcement that a vaccine will start being rolled out across the UK in the next few weeks, we are hopeful that December will bring more good news as we head into a very different festive season.
Emma and Lydia, the policy team