The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) met only one of its three targets to reach new audiences by increasing the number of people from underrepresented groups who visit the historic environment by 2007-08. The targets were challenging and DCMS and English Heritage had limited levers to influence more people to visit historic sites. DCMS did, however, meet its target to increase the number of people from black and minority ethnic groups visiting the historic environment, by delivering a 3.4 per cent rise over the period 2005-06 to 2007-08.
As the leader of the heritage sector and a custodian of historic sites, English Heritage was a key player in the DCMS strategy to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups visiting the historic environment. A National Audit Office report to Parliament has today revealed that there was a weak link between DCMS’s policy objectives to broaden participation and the targets agreed with English Heritage. The method of measuring progress against the target was not designed to assess English Heritage’s or the DCMS’s contribution. As a result, whilst one of the DCMS’s three participation targets was met, it is unclear the extent to which the actions of DCMS or English Heritage contributed to this result.
English Heritage had a number of competing priorities during this period. Government funding fell in real terms and English Heritage prioritised income generation at its sites. English Heritage successfully increased the revenue generated from its properties by 5 per cent annually in real terms over the past four years and has increased its membership by 15 per cent. However, the number of free educational visits to its sites has been in decline since 2005 and English Heritage will miss its target to increase free educational visits to its sites to 650,000 by 2010.
As part of its strategy to help DCMS meet the target of increasing visitor numbers from three priority groups (people from black and minority ethnic groups, people with limiting disabilities and people from lower socio-economic groups), English Heritage concentrated funding on ‘outreach’ projects largely based in the community. The outreach team is well respected by the sector for its work with hard to reach groups, but English Heritage has not evaluated the long-term impact of its outreach projects. As a result, the evidence base on which English Heritage makes decisions about how it broadens the diversity of visitors to its own sites is weak.
DCMS has a target to increase participation in culture and sport between 2008 and 2011. It is currently discussing with English Heritage how the effectiveness of English Heritage’s contribution to this policy objective will be assessed.
Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said today:
“The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has met one but missed two of its targets to increase the number of people from underrepresented groups who visit heritage sites in England. While the targets were challenging, they should have been underpinned by a performance framework that more clearly matched the priorities and activities of English Heritage with the Department’s strategic objectives. The Department needs to review its performance management practices to ensure that the bodies it funds are working with it towards shared objectives.”