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15.06.2020

Coronavirus: sector urges government to support heritage skills

Icon, as a member of the umbrella organisation The Heritage Alliance, has called on Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Oliver Dowden to support homegrown heritage skills as the UK moves out of the initial emergency stage of Government intervention and looks to rebuild and recover from the Coronavirus.

The importance of the heritage sector’s skills and expertise was highlighted in a briefing sent to the Secretary of State:

“Heritage sites and organisations rely heavily on the vital skills and expertise of the self- employed sector and contractors. These individuals provide public engagement (art, performance), building work (plasterers, stonemasons), conservation, heritage engineering, specialist archaeological services, and other small consulting contracts." 

The briefing quoted the results of Icon’s Coronavirus survey, highlighting how 90% of respondents reported a loss or postponement of work due to the pandemic. “In the long-term, there is a risk that many self-employed contractors will be unable to survive, as they simply fall between the gaps of the existing government schemes, leading to a loss of specialist skills,” the briefing warned. “These contractors are also required to teach the next generation of specialists - if they cease to trade, specialist skills could be lost forever.” 

The sector called on  Government to provide “targeted grants and support” for skills. Suggestions included government funding for heritage skills training and encouraging young people into apprenticeships in the heritage sector.

Dowden has expressed a personal interest in arts and culture and determination for the sector's survival. “I am not going to stand by and see our world-leading position in arts and culture destroyed,” Dowden pledged in a recent interview with Evening Standard. DCMS is reported to be having “intricate discussions” with the Treasury to develop a scheme to save the arts and culture sector from bankruptcy. “I’ve always found the Chancellor and his team very engaged and understanding about the value of this sector,” Dowden reassured.

The Heritage Alliance continues to feed Icon’s concerns and suggestions through the Heritage Working Group, which regularly briefs DCMS on the sector’s needs related to the Coronavirus. 

Icon has made previous calls to Dowden and the Chancellor for urgent support for conservation. You can find more information about our Coronavirus policy work, including our letters to decision makers, here.

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Photo by Malcolm Lightbody on Unsplash

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