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3 May 2009

Newsletter No 58: 3 May 2009

We have referred previously to the possibility, indeed probability, that Liverpool Heritage Forum would have to be closed down due to lack of co-operation by the City Council, indeed its the failure even to respond to correspondence

The Forum has undoubtedly assisted in “spreading the word” about heritage during the Year of Heritage (2007) and the City’s year as European Capital of Culture (2008). It is beyond question that the Forum’s influence, be it great or small, has been positive. Yet through the “reigns” of Jason Harborough and Phil Redmond the Liverpool Culture Company (part of the City Council) and now the City Council itself, “Town Hall” officials have failed to answer our letters, even after reminders, or to have taken months to do so. It is not as though we have bombarded them with letters.  We have written a small number of considered letters, which merited not only acknowledgement (which they mostly did not receive without one or more reminders being sent) but also considered responses.  Other simple forms of co-operation have not been forthcoming.

The Forum’s steering group has come to the view that there is no point in it continuing to exist if the City Council continues to behave like this. We say “the City Council” but given the number of supporting words which a number of elected Councillors have give to us orally, we wonder if the reason for the failure is that the authority’s structure does not take heritage seriously and does not give its officials a clear mandate and instruction to support heritage and to engage in constructive dialogue with us as part of that. Or is it just that the City Council has no system for such a simple task as answering letters?

So, does the City Council take heritage seriously? It would be extraordinary if it doesn’t  because cultural tourism is the City’s main hope for increasing employment.

To prove our point, we reproduce below a letter which we sent to Claire McColgan, Head of Culture on 4 February 2009. (repeat 4 February). Having received no response, we sent a reminder on 29 March (repeat 29 March). We received a reply on 1 May 2009 (repeat 1 May).  The texts are below.

In order to test the opinion of the people who have shown interest in the Form’s activities and the situation it finds itself in, we have prepared a questionnaire, which we hope you will answer.  This is at the back of his Newsletter.

Letter dated 4 February 2009 from Andrew Pearce, Chairman of Liverpool Heritage Forum, to Claire McColgan, Head of Culture at Liverpool City Council with a copy to Councillor Gary Millar, Cabinet Member for Enterprise & Tourism:

4 February 2009

Dear Claire,

I have been in correspondence with Cllr Millar about the future of Liverpool Heritage Forum (LHF), which I chair. The Forum was set up about three years ago to increase networking between voluntary societies in the cultural sector, taking culture, for this purpose, to mean classical and artistic culture rather than sport or “pop”.

The Forum’s Newsletter is circulated by email to more than 1,900 people and is circulated further by a number of recipients, electronically and on paper, reaching perhaps as many people again. The mailing list includes local Councillors but mainly consists of the 60 or 70 societies which have participated in our activities in one way or another and people who have asked to receive copies. It is therefore well targeted.

Our website has been much consulted, though it is in need of being updated and re-presented. It provides information about the city’s heritage, about local cultural and heritage societies and gives links to other relevant sources of information.

The Forum has held several meetings in the Athenaeum which have been open to people from all participating societies and interested individuals. A short series about the City’s ethnic communities was among matters covered. Care was taken care not to deal with subjects which properly fall within the scope of one or other of the participating societies. Attendance was between 30 and 70 people.

Three successful public meetings on heritage subjects were held by the Forum in 2007 in the Town Hall. It was agreed by the Town Hall and the Culture Company that the Forum could have these meetings in the Council Chamber without being charged. (There was no cost to the Council Tax payer as the building and staff were there anyway). Between 100 and 150 people attended these meetings, even though they were not as well advertised as we would have wished. The Forum tried to repeat the idea in 2008, targeting in particular passengers on the cruise liners docking in Liverpool.  This did not proceed because the Town Hall would not provide the room unless the Culture Company paid the cost of the 2007 exercise and the Culture Company did not do so  -  an episode which showed bureaucracy at its worst. The Council Chamber was not fully booked and there would have been no additional cost whatsoever.

The Forum also set out to be a link between the voluntary societies and the Culture Company. This only worked spasmodically because, as everyone in Liverpool knows, the Culture Company was extremely poor at answering letters.

Meanwhile, heritage enthusiasts in Wirral saw what we had done in Liverpool and set up their own Heritage and History Society, partly based on LHF but adapted to their own circumstances. It has been warmly embraced by Wirral Council. It receives funds from the Council towards its administrative costs and its views are heard in the consideration of plans to spend larger sums of Council money on heritage projects.

When the consultations over Liverpool’s new post-2008 Cultural Strategy were first taking place, the Forum was not directly consulted but was informed by a City Council official that opinions on the document were being canvassed via Liverpool Council of Voluntary Services. This information seems to have been inaccurate in that LCVS was consulting only its own members, of which the Forum is not one. (But LCVS knew full well of our existence because it has been a recipient of the LHF Newsletter from its earliest editions). I had a discussion with LCVS in which we were given to understand that a major part of its role is to assure the smooth use of charitable and other funds to the voluntary sector. (Members of the Forum had thought that NOT asking for public funds was the path of virtue but have since felt on several occasions that the City Council would have taken more notice of it if it had requested Council subsidies  -  not a happy thing to have to say!)

Members of the Forum’s steering group have considered how, if at all, to go forward now that the Years of Heritage and Culture are over. There are several factors:

The need for a means of contact between voluntary societies in the heritage and cultural sector remains. We are not aware that LCVS fulfils this need as far as the societies we are in contact with are concerned. The Forum’s Newsletter goes some way towards meeting this need.

The need for a link between our participating voluntary societies and the public authorities remains as strong as ever  -  and, again does not seem to be met by LCVS. (This is not a criticism of LCVS, merely a statement that the LHF and LCVS appear, quite properly, to have slightly different objectives). An example of how the links between voluntary societies and the City Council and the Culture Company were less effective than they might have been is the inadequate attention paid to heritage and classical culture in many of the plans for the Year of Culture and in the first draft of the post-2008 Cultural Strategy. This is despite the long term future of tourism in the city depending in no small measure on these matters.

For the sake of good governance and so that its voice can be heard more loudly, the Forum needs a structure of some kind as either a formally constituted organisation or as a number of people appointed by consultees of the City Council.

The Forum has never asked for nor received any public money, its work being carried out by volunteers, by the use of (cost-free) email and by the provision of rooms free of charge for meetings at the Athenaeum. The work of the Forum imposes small costs on its Officers, which cannot go on for ever.  It is unclear how long the Athenaeum will continue to let the Forum use its rooms for larger meetings. There are moreover small additional costs (such as the hire of meeting rooms, unless the City Council provides these free of charge, and the photocopying and mailing of an additional 50 or 100 copies of the Newsletter where this method of transmission is more suitable that email). These costs could be met by a grant from the City Council directly or via LCVS.

The Forum’s steering group has considered two alternative structures. One would be to emulate the Wirral Heritage and History Society as a properly constituted charity, recognised and partly funded (on a small scale) by Liverpool City Council.

An alternative would be that the City Council should provide three or four Heritage Forum meetings a year at which elected Members and officers of the Council would dialogue with representatives of voluntary societies. It could be advised on this by a small panel of nominated volunteers. The City Council would pay for the use of a room for the meetings and for the printing and mailing of invitations (the list of invitees being largely supplied by the volunteers).

Under both structures, the LHF website and Newsletter could continue on their present basis (i.e. independently and at no cost) for as long as the people who now do the work were prepared to continue doing so or with assistance with emailing and postal  costs if any were to arise.

Neither structure would be directly concerned with the use of public funds for heritage or culture projects  -  though the Forum might express views on what should be done.  Its main function vis à vis the voluntary societies would be to spread information both between them and to and from the City Council. The Forum would be of independent view (unlike many societies which rely on public funding) and as such could provide a level of knowledgeable support for the successful development of heritage and the arts in the city which the City Council on its own could not achieve. It could only function satisfactorily if it had clear and willing support from the City Council and unambiguous means of two-way contact with relevant elected Members and officers. It would need to be able to view the heritage and culture scene broadly, including aspects of planning (e.g. listed buildings) and other matters affecting the overall experience of the City’s cultural “offer”.

Cllr Millar suggested that I should contact you and Chris Briggs. We seem to face the same unwillingness on the part of the City Council to have a proper dialogue with voluntary cultural societies as dogged our activities over the last three years. So, to put the matter bluntly, does the City Council want to have a dialogue with voluntary cultural societies?

Andrew Pearce

Copy to: Cllr Gary Millar, Liverpool City Council.


Letter dated 30 April 2009 from Graham Boxer, Arts Heritage and Participation Manager, Liverpool City Council to Andrew Pearce.

Andrew Pearce,

CH62 0AQ

Dear Andrew,

 06 May 2009

Thank you for your letter to Claire McColgan dated 4th February 2009, I apologise for the delay in replying.

I am interested to learn of the work you and your colleagues are undertaking on a voluntary basis to run the Liverpool Heritage Forum (LHF).  Can I assure you that heritage issues are very important to Liverpool City Council, which is why over the last 9 years we have worked closely with English Heritage to improve how we manage our heritage assets and to this end have appointed a Buildings at Risk Officer, World Heritage Site Officer and co partnered the Historic Environment of Liverpool Project (HELP).

We also took on board people’s comments during the consultation on the Liverpool Cultural Strategy - including reports from yourself and the LHF - to ensure that heritage issues were fairly represented.  The recommendations of the Cultural Strategy are now being developed into actions by the Cultural Task Group of the Liverpool First Partnership and clearly, some of these actions will reflect the importance of heritage to the City - in particular the World Heritage Site.  In addition, we will be commissioning a review of heritage issues within the City so that we can maximise their potential for investment and economic growth.

I am very pleased that you and your colleagues have taken the decision to form the LHF on a voluntary basis and would wish to support you in the work that your organisation is undertaking. However, other than through our annual arts and cultural investment programme (ACIP) we are unable to support you financially to any great degree, mainly because Liverpool City Council does not have any reserves that it can commit in this way and because such support would set a precedent for other organisations and networks to plead the same cause.

However, there may be ways that we can help in kind?  You mention the use of the Town Hall free of charge for a fixed number of meetings and we could take a fresh look at this for the future.  Alternatively it maybe possible to provide a meeting room in St Georges Hall on a similar basis for the use of the LHF.

In return, however, I would urge you to move the LHF to a more sustainable position in the longer term.  This would involve becoming a fully constituted not for profit charitable organisation and possibly, charging a modest membership fee to support your activities.

I realise that this may incur further work for the voluntary officers, but it will also make the LHF eligible for funding from grant making bodies such as the HLF and Liverpool City Council (applicants for grants under the ACIP must be fully constituted).

I cannot guarantee elected member or officer presence at every meeting of your Forum, however if you organise yourselves as a fully constituted body, we will seek to nominate an elected member to sit on your board.

I do hope this information is useful to you, if you wish to follow up on any of these points please give me a call on 0151 233 4032 and I will be happy to discuss this further with you.

Yours sincerely,

Graham Boxer

Arts, Heritage and Participation Manager

Culture Liverpool – Liverpool City Council

c.c.  John Kelly  Bernice Law