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Hyslop explains Scotland's radical new heritage strategy

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Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop on the newly created Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and its strategy for the country’s built environment

Why is the new body needed and what exactly is HES’s remit?
The creation of a new national body for the historic environment, which sustains the functions of both Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS), will ensure their long-term effectiveness in the face of current and future challenges. Historic Environment Scotland will act as a key partner in the delivery of the new strategy for Scotland’s historic environment and the shared ambition for the historic environment which underpins that strategy.

Will there be any redundancies due to the merger?
The merger is designed to deliver the functions of Historic Scotland and RCAHMS in a sustainable way which delivers maximum public benefit from Scotland’s Historic Environment. The staff of both bodies are crucial to the success of HES, and there is a clear commitment that all staff will transfer to HES with no detriment to their existing terms and conditions and will remain subject to the current policy of no compulsory redundancies at the Scottish government.

There is a clear commitment that all staff will transfer to HES

However, like all bodies in the public sector, the organisation is looking at the shape of its workforce to ensure it has the skills and capacity necessary to support the delivery of the strategy. 

How much of a radical change is the new Our Place in Time strategy compared to existing policies?
For the first time the policy sets out a common vision for the Historic Environment which sits above any one set of organisational priorities and drives organisations to deliver a common set of outcomes in partnership, placing the value of the historic environment to the people of Scotland at its heart.

This radical approach aims to ensure the historic environment is properly recognised as an asset, locally and nationally, in areas such as housing, education and employability.  

The strategy will seek to ensure that knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the historic environment continues to grow and that this knowledge is made readily available as a means of encouraging individuals, communities and decision makers to better understand and enjoy their historic environment, for example:  

  • By increasing and disseminating knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the historic environment, it it will be better protected and managed according to both its cultural significance and to its potential to contribute to the wellbeing of communities
  • More knowledge, understanding and appreciation should also support the delivery of better place-making, ensuring that the historic environment plays a stronger and more central role, contributing context, identity and connection in decisions about the future of Scotland’s communities

Some have said Historic Scotland had ‘lost its teeth’ and become ineffective. Do you understand why they might think that and how will HES change perceptions?
Historic Scotland plays an important role across the historic environment, not least as a key operator of visitor attractions and in the direct management of some of Scotland’s finest historic sites, but also in relation to the planning system in designation and regulation of the historic environment. The transfer of these functions to Historic Environment Scotland (HES) will provide the opportunity to ensure they are delivering maximum public benefit. In relation to planning,  HES’s role will more akin to that of other regulators such as Scottish Natural Heritage, providing increased clarity and ensuring that HES is able to fully represent the interests of historic environment in the planning system and engage effectively with building owners, local authorities and other stakeholders to deliver positive outcomes.

Will HES be run at ‘arms-length’ from the government, like English Heritage is?
The new body will be a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB), which will mean a change in status for Historic Scotland. The move to an NDPB status is appropriate as it aligns more closely with other national cultural bodies and provides greater clarity in terms of the accountability.

Why base HES in Edinburgh?
Both bodies are currently headquartered in Edinburgh and there are currently no plans to change that. HES will continue to have a national reach through regional offices and properties which are open as visitor attractions across Scotland.

What will become of RCAHMS’ renowned archive?
A key aim of these changes is to sustain the functions currently carried out by RCAHMS. The Bill makes specific provisions for the collections and HES will be given functions to manage its collections as a national resource, preserve them and make them available to the public. Management of the collections will be covered by a range of policies and strategies including an acquisitions and disposals policy, and there have been early discussions with other collections in Scotland to inform these.

At the moment there is a nominal fee for extensive access to the RCAHMS archive. Do you so see that creeping up over the next few years?
RCHAMS do not make any charges for access to their archive, either in person or electronically. Charges are made for commercial reproduction of items in the collection.

There are no plans to alter the existing charging policies

Charging policy for the activities of HES would be a matter for its Board in the first instance, and agreed with Scottish ministers. There are no plans to alter the existing charging policies operated by HS or RCAHMS.

Who will head up HES and when will they start work?
Ensuring that the new body has strong and effective leadership will be crucial to its success and the delivery of the new strategy for Scotland’s historic environment.

HES will be managed day to day by a chief executive and overseen by a Board. The chair of the board will be responsible to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament. Subject to the passage of the current Bill before Parliament, the new body will formally come into existence in April 2015 and will take on full powers in October 2015. 

The appointment of a chair and Board for the new body will start as soon as the Parliament process will allow. Thereafter the process of the appointing a CEO will be initiated. It is expected that we will have a new board in place by the start of the new financial year. 

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