HERITAGE charities have raised fears a new heritage “super-body” could threaten their survival, with the National Trust for Scotland urging thousands of its members to object to the controversial plan.
The Scottish Government wants to merge Historic Scotland with the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland to create one giant organisation responsible for safeguarding the nation’s heritage. But NTS has called on its 312,000 members to oppose proposals to give the new body charitable status, because it believes that granting a government agency the chance to seek public donations risks creating damaging competition for much-needed funding.
Around 100 people from heritage groups including NTS and Archaeology Scotland held a meeting yesterday to discuss a range of concerns, including plans to put the new body in charge of allocation of grants which will create an untenable conflict of interest.
Trust head of policy, Diarmid Hearns, said ministers must “make sure there is a level playing field, with no unfair advantages given to the new organisation as it competes with us and others for income”.
He said: “We have concerns that a number of issues are not addressed in detail within the consultation paper [currently being debated] and we would like to encourage the Scottish Government to consider these before finalising its plans. For example, will there be guarantees that the new body will not use its state funding to cross- subsidise its marketing and pricing to compete with voluntary and private providers?
“Historic Scotland, as a branch of the civil service, currently enjoys a different tax treatment from competitors in the voluntary and private sectors.
“Can we assume that the new body with its charitable status will be treated in the same way as its competitors in this respect?”
He added: “Historic Scotland already receives bulk funding [from the government as a government agency] so giving the proposed new body charitable status would be like the gravy on top. For us and other heritage charities, we depend absolutely on charitable donations and our members have been very concerned that we should say something and do something about this.”
As one of Scotland’s leading conservation charities, the trust relies on the financial support of members to fund key work caring for the natural and cultural heritage of Scotland.
The Scottish Government suggested the fears were misplaced given that Historic Scotland and RCAHMS already covered the areas of concern under their current remits.