Policy Round-Up: September 2020
Back-to-school season is in full swing this September, with Parliament resuming session a week early on 1 September. Since then, we in the policy team has been cracking on with consultation responses, case studies, ministerial meetings, letter writing campaigns, and a series of lively sector discussions on the Planning White Paper.
A series of new restrictions were announced this month, first with the new ‘rule of six’ on 10 September, and subsequently with the 10pm curfew and table service rules for bars and restaurants. Local lockdowns have continued to grow across the UK, and we have been warned that new restrictions could last up to six months. Wedding venues continue to face particularly desperate conditions, with guest numbers reduced from 30 to 15 this month. The members’ area of our website has been updated with advice and guidance on the situation for all houses that offer wedding events, including the latest legal advice on contracts and consumer law. We continue to press government for urgent support for wedding and events companies, and we have encouraged venues to write to their MPs to highlight the effects that the current restrictions are having. (Our local lobbying toolkit contains details of how to find your MP’s email address.)
Better news for some came last week, when the Chancellor unveiled a ‘winter economy plan’ to help support UK businesses through the next six months of Covid-19 restrictions. The announcements included a new Job Support Scheme, a six-month extension to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme, and the extension of the Government Loan Schemes. The Chancellor also announced an extension of the temporary 15% VAT cut for the tourism and hospitality sectors to the end of March next year - something we and many other bodies in the tourism sector have been calling for over the last few weeks, and which will be a huge help for many of our member houses and gardens.
In Scotland, we are pressing the cabinet to announce further details and open applications for the two heritage funding streams that have been announced as part of the £1.57 billion Cultural Recovery Fund. We have written to cabinet secretary Fiona Hyslop to call on the Scottish Government to press forward with the £5.9 million Heritage and Culture fund, and the recently announced £4 million Historic Environment fund, both of which are urgently needed to support vulnerable heritage sites in Scotland. Elsewhere, we have been making preparations for the Holyrood elections in March with a new stakeholder engagement plan, and a shortlist of policy pledges ahead of the manifesto launches this Autumn.
The Planning White Paper has sparked significant interest and debate within the sector this month, and we were pleased to be able to share our thoughts with the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick during a roundtable meeting this week. The minister affirmed his passion for heritage, and assured the sector that the white paper would not seek to erode heritage protections. Our Director Ben Cowell emphasised the importance of also allowing historic buildings to evolve and adapt to provide community benefits and rural prosperity, a message which was echoed by others and well received by the minister. We hope to continue this dialogue with MHCLG over the coming month, and will be submitting our full response to the consultation at the end of October.
Last but certainly not least, we were delighted to be involved in the launch of the Heritage Alliance’s new report looking at the significant contribution historic sites make to the Health and Wellbeing of individuals and communities. The report highlighted some of the many examples of the sector’s diverse community engagement projects, and several Historic Houses member case studies feature on pages 41-45 of the report.
Emma and Lydia, the policy team