There's almost a touch of vaudevillian farce surrounding the government's decision to ramp up English Heritage's (EH's) workload while remaining non-committal about the quango's funding crisis.
Last week's Heritage White Paper set out plans to pass responsibility for listing buildings to EH - the task has, until now, belonged to its paymaster, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).
And last month EH's chief architect David Heath resigned, citing major failings in funding and organisation as well as low morale throughout the quango ( ajplus 21.02.07). EH is having to axe resources to make ends meet: the direct result of an ongoing Comprehensive Spending Review in which the government has consistently refused to increase funding in line with ination.
EH has made it clear that additional costs will be involved in managing the listing system.
But the DCMS appears confused over the funding issue.
A DCMS spokeswoman insists that the White Paper will not create any additional burdens for EH. 'They already do a lot of this work. There will be no extra workload, ' she claims.
And Culture Minister Tessa Jowell is reluctant to offer any reassurance, saying: 'We are in the middle of a spending review, and recognise the increased responsibilities for EH.'
If government spin is to be believed, devolving listing to EH will 'strip out the bureaucracy of the heritage-protection system; demystify the process of listing; and make it fairer and more accessible'.
Architects and conservation groups broadly welcome the White Paper but all agree that extra money is needed to make the changes work. Jane Kennedy, principal of Purcell Miller Tritton Architects and an EH commissioner, says: 'This move will lead to cheaper and better list descriptions, but additional money is needed to put new processes in place.'
According to Alan Robson, senior partner at Feilden + Mawson, this funding issue has brought Labour's commitment to EH into question. 'Additional burdens of responsibility and decline in budget arrangements is a recurring theme, ' he says.
'I am worried about the commitment of government to EH when funding is being cut and its people are disappearing.'
If the well-worn adage 'treat them mean, keep them keen' is to be believed, then a cash-starved EH is more likely to toe the government line on controversial listing and delisting decisions.
Adam Wilkinson, secretary of conservation campaign group SAVE Britain's Heritage, says he does not expect that English Heritage will rile the government in its decisionmaking - despite its status as a quango. 'One would imagine controversial decisions would be harder to make than previously, ' he says.
A - nal decision on EH's finances will be announced this summer under the current Comprehensive Spending Review. But until then the long-term maintenance and security of Britain's heritage hangs in the balance.