Following revelations about the drastic cuts proposed by Essex County Council to the Cressing Temple heritage site, members of the Essex Society for Archaeology and History have written to their local County Councillors, Members of Parliament and, where appropriate District Councillors of Braintree DC.
The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP serves the Essex constituency of Brentwood and Ongar, also holding the Cabinet post of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. It is his department which is handing down the drastic cuts to the public sector. In a response to a member the MP has enclosed a letter from Cllr David Finch, the political Leader of Essex County Council. The text is repeated in full below.
Essex County Council
PO Box 11,
Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Member of Parliament for Brentwood and Ongar
House of Commons
25 November 2013
Re: Cressing Temple
Thank you for your email dated 6 November 2013 regarding the above.
Essex County Council (ECC) is committed to continuing to deliver its services in Green Assets at a time when we face unprecedented financial challenges. Reduced funding from central government, together with the impact of inflation and increasing demands for services mean the council needs to save a further £215m by 2016/17. As a consequence, we are identifying opportunities to operate differently, while continuing to deliver services wherever possible. On 23rd October we started a formal consultation period with employees at Cressing Temple Barns. We are consulting with our employees on proposals to implement a new operating model, in order to reduce the subsidy required to manage the site.
Our proposal recommends a series of changes which if implemented, will mean:
• The site is open every weekend from April through to the end of October;
• The site is open every day of the school summer holidays;
• Grounds will be open for informal access during weekdays between April and October, but the visitor centre and associated facilities will remain closed; and
• The site will continue to open for planned events and room hires from November to April, as scheduled.
These options are subject to feedback following the end of employee consultation which will end on 6 December 2013.
If implemented, we anticipate the new operating model will be live from April 2014.
ECC will continue to be committed to ensuring this valuable site, its grounds and barns are maintained and protected for future generations. We will continue to promote awareness and understanding of this valuable heritage site.
Thank you for drawing this matter to my attention and I trust the above has provided you with sufficient clarification into the current position.
Cllr David Finch
Leader of the Council
The most interesting paragraph in the whole letter is this: “We are consulting with our employees on proposals to implement a new operating model, in order to reduce the subsidy required to manage the site.”
Essex County Council faces the challenge of reducing its budget by £215m by 2016/17, representing an ongoing and relentless round of cuts in grant announced in this year’s Government Comprehensive Spending Review. The economy is now growing but there is a political philosophy to create a thin public sector. This emphasis means it becomes inevitable that things which do not make money – where expenditure exceeds income – and require a subsidy to operate face reductions or closure. We are seeing this across the history, heritage and archaeology sector. Our Society member commented to Mr Pickles that these are the very things important to a society’s understanding, identity and wellbeing and that society, community and individuals are diminished when opportunities to engage in the past are lost.
Consultation with employees, which the Leader of Essex County Council refers to, is in all probability with those in the ‘at risk’ category: at risk of redundancy. The Leader does not mention the staff losses which will result as a consequence of the decimation of service at Cressing Temple. This is not public consultation at all. Once leaders in the field of heritage and related fields are lost there exists a downward spiral of professional expertise which is difficult to plug by the enthusiast. To be fair, the Leader has daunting political choices to make. We have to question Government policy. It leads to a society which knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.