Would an Independent Scotland Increase or Decrease Heritage and Archaeology Funding?

Posted on September 17, 2014


On the issue of Scotland’s independence, the ‘Yes’  campaign says, “the roads will be paved with gold, which we will ride our unicorns on”, and the ‘No Thanks’ campaign says, “the devil will set up his new home in Scotland as it degrades into a failed state” when it comes to the future of economy and funding things like the NHS, pensions, and by default Heritage and Archaeology. Who is right? Let’s take a look.

This is the third post on my series looking at what an independent Scotland would mean for Archaeology. The first showed that not much would change and the last that it would greatly help the diversity of the workforce.

Funding National Bodies

The differences between England and Scotland are staggering in terms of spending on their national heritage bodies. Westminster only gave English Heritage £101 in 2012/13 compared to Scotland’s £44m. England’s population is 10x larger than Scotland’s (53m to 5.3m). That means Scotland spends roughly £8.5 , per citizen on Historic Scotland while England spends roughly £2 per citizen on English Heritage. Scotland spends 4x as much money per citizen on its Heritage body– which gives out grants, funds projects, and protects its national heritage assets.

These are devolved powers in which each nation gets to choose how their spend their money. However, because of the formula used to divide up national money Scotland gets more money per citizen than England. Moreover, the recent UK wide austerity has not hurt the money given in this formula too much. For other parts of the budget these more severe cuts, which disproportionately affect England, because it does not have its own parliament, and has led to a kamikaze like assault on funding for English Heritage. Scotland on the other hand has kept funding relatively stable, though still a loss through inflation. Historic Scotland’s Annual reports put ‘Scottish Government cash funding for year’ at £41,662,000 in 2006/07 and £44,035,000 in 2012/13.

We really don’t have an indication yet of how important Heritage and Archaeology is to the Scottish Government, at least when it comes to funding. Would Scotland cut funding to Heritage in times of great austerity?

Funding Local Authorities

Local councils have been pretty much unanimous in their response to the crises, budget cuts and hiring freezes. Scottish or English Councils, it did not matter. They have all cut their local regulatory services during the recession, as shown by the Profiling the Profession survey. The past would indicate that at least on the local authority level there is no single Scottish or English response to the issue. As I have discussed, Wales have Trusts and Northern Ireland do not have council archaeologists.

Commercial Archaeology Funding, Hard to Know the Unknown

In some cases we don’t know what the results will. There are too many factors involved. The last Profiling the Profession report found that the number of planning applications put in or approved in the UK correlates pretty darn close to the number of archaeologists employed.  Of course this is a correlation and not the cause, which is general development and construction which requires archaeological work. Simple, if Scotland continues to build than there will be lots of funding for commercial archaeology, the main employer of archaeologists.

Will that happen with an independent Scotland? Scotland is aging and needs to increase its general population to handle the aging process. That means the population needs to grow and thus more housing, roads, etc. As I discussed in my last post an independent Scotland would be better positioned to increase its population through immigration. Though construction can be driven by the general economy and if that fails than less gets built. The factors that go into a strong economy is too complex to fully model, currently. At least that is what the banks learned during their failures in the Great Recession.

What’s the Future Hold?

We don’t know really. We can’t predict the future of the largest pot of funding for archaeologists, the commercial sector. At the national level Scotland has yet to really be tested and the local level is the same as everywhere else, which is not hearting. We really just have to wait and see what the future will bring.


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