Temple of Mithras with light and haze (c) Bloomberg

Archaeology and Public Benefit Project Update 4: Can you put a value on heritage?

Dr Sadie Watson

Dr Sadie Watson is leading a four-year UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship looking at maximising public benefit from archaeology carried out on UK infrastructure projects. In this blog series, she keeps us up to date with the project team’s progress…

We are not alone in researching the public benefit that our sector can provide. I recently attended an online webinar hosted by the Westminster Media Forum on ‘England’s heritage sector - funding and investment, widening audiences, and growing social and economic impact’. I was very interested to hear Emma Squire, Director of Arts, Heritage and Tourism at the Department for Culture, Heritage, Media and Sport) outline the DCMS plans for a major, decade-long study intended to create a system through which the benefits of culture and heritage can be valued.

‘Cultural and Heritage Capital’ will take the Natural Capital project conducted by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as its model. This project provided a structured process for landowners, policy makers and other organisations to establish the value of a natural environment, and assess the impact a project or policy may have on it. A version of this for the cultural heritage sector will be used to support the principles in HM Treasury’s Green Book, which provides the standard guidance for assessment of the appropriateness and impact of all public spending.

Though not primarily aimed at the contracting sector, this work will have huge relevance for Government-funded infrastructure projects, which invariably involve an archaeological element. The DCMS approach is related to the concept of social capital, which can be defined as the opportunity to provide or improve social aspects of life, such as friendship, trust, respect and responsibility. It moves away from merely considering the economic value of cultural heritage and towards recognising potential impacts on wellbeing, community cohesion and enjoyment, amongst many other things.

Naturally, these concepts are difficult to measure, so some form of data-based balance sheet will be produced, demonstrating the contribution of cultural heritage to these aspects of our collective social life. A bank of ‘values’ that can be used to inform economic impact assessments for development will be created, and cost-benefit analysis of public spending in relation to culture and heritage undertaken. The ‘Cultural and Heritage Capital’ project will also include supplementary Green Book guidance on how to account for cultural heritage impacts in national and local decision making. It will also provide a UK wide ‘culture and heritage account’, to show the full value of culture and heritage across the country.

Our UKRI project will feed into this larger DCMS strategy whenever helpful. As we are considering a very specific part of the cultural heritage sector, we will be able to focus on detailed analysis of public benefit from archaeology and use the results from our work to inform issues highlighted by the DCMS project team.

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