Public consultation on the creation of a new independent heritage organisation closed on 8 February 2012 and the council was delighted by the quality and quantity of responses received. A total of 882 responses were received; of these over 700 were individual respondents, 127 were responses on behalf of organisations and key stakeholders and 24 were formal written responses.
The main purpose of the consultation was to seek your views on the proposal to create a new heritage organisation for Suffolk, in partnership with the Museum of East Anglian Life and to determine whether you supported further work being undertaken in relation to building a new heritage centre for Suffolk.
Additionally, the council also sought to determine current levels of demand on existing archaeology and archive services; how you access these services and what you felt these services should provide in the future.
What you told us
- You are in favour of the creation of a new heritage organisation and for further work to be carried out in relation to building a new Suffolk heritage centre.
- You have concerns around the location of any new centre, a potential reduction in access to heritage collections in the future and the potential impact on travel in the event that your local record office was closed.
- There is a strong demand for further digitisation of catalogues and also the digitisation of collections, artefacts, finds, objects and records, but not at the loss of access to the original artefacts/records.
- There is a strong desire to maintain the high quality of services provided by both the council’s archaeology and archive services and we should consider developing an alternative option for consultation in the event that the proposal to create a new heritage trust is unachievable.
- The council should ensure that there is no reduction in quality of service or a loss of specialist knowledge and skills in either of these services.
- A large proportion of those who responded access heritage information at home (89.1%) with 58.2% stating that they use the council’s website to access Suffolk’s heritage services. Other main websites used to access this information include The National Archives and English Heritage.
What we have done so far
The council’s Scrutiny Committee considered the proposal to create a heritage organisation for Suffolk on 8 March 2012. After considering the key findings from the public consultation and hearing evidence from a wide range of stakeholders, the committee agreed a set of recommendations for consideration by Cabinet. These recommendations included:
- Officers should consider as broad a range of alternative models and structures as possible and these options should be risk assessed to ensure that the council continues to meet its statutory responsibilities.
- The project needs to provide a sustainable long-term solution; the final model chosen should be the correct one for Suffolk which safeguards collections and enables the council to continue to meet its statutory obligations; and the timescale for the decision-making process should allow for this.
- Every effort should be made to engage with district and borough councils.
- Consideration to the digitisation of records being progressed as a separate project with a separate bid made for grant funding to support this work.
- Regardless of the model chosen for the future of heritage services, the administration of the council’s archaeological field unit should be separated from the administration of the archaeological conservation unit.
- When the full business case is developed, it should be subjected to further detailed scrutiny before presentation to Cabinet for a final decision.
- Information management is of critical importance to the council and other organisations who have entrusted their records to the record office. The legal and practical implications of data or information ownership, access, sharing, security and confidentiality should be taken into consideration during the options appraisal.
The Cabinet considered these recommendations, together with the findings of the public consultation on 17 April 2012. At this meeting, Cabinet authorised the Director of Economy, Skills and Environment and the Director of Adult and Community Services to:
- investigate with relevant partners, the options for the future of the council’s archives and archaeology services;
- investigate the opportunities for grant funding to enable the digitisation of the Council’s collection of heritage artefacts, records, catalogues and finds;
- investigate the criteria, capacity, capital spend and the potential for a capital bid to address the long term needs of Suffolk’s heritage services in partnership, where appropriate, with others and recommend the solution for additional archive storage to be in place after 2016.
For further details of this decision, please see the minutes of the Cabinet meeting.
Following the Cabinet meeting, Council officers drafted a strategy for digitising the council’s collection of heritage artefacts, records, catalogues and finds which is now available to download.
The Cabinet received an update on progress of the heritage programme at its meeting on 16 October 2012 and authorised:
- Development of a Suffolk-wide strategy for heritage in partnership with district and borough councils, public sector and independent museum services and other heritage organisations.
- A detailed feasibility study into areas identified as preferred locations for a new heritage centre, undertake stakeholder engagement and acquire a preferred site.
- Development of a full business case for a new heritage centre, which includes options for interim arrangements.
- Development of a five-year action plan and business case for the digitisation of collections.
What we are doing now
Heritage Service Development
A Strategic Heritage Forum has now been established which involves chief executives of district and borough councils, together with senior leaders from independent cultural heritage organisations and representatives from the University Campus Suffolk. The purpose of the forum is to develop a county-wide strategy for Suffolk’s heritage services and promote Suffolk’s heritage offer in a joined-up way. The aim is for the strategy to be developed for consideration by Cabinet in June/July this year.
Two meetings of the forum have now been held and membership includes representatives from all district and borough councils, the Ipswich and St Edmundsbury Diocese, the Museum of East Anglian Life, University Campus Suffolk, Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service, Suffolk Local History Council, Suffolk Family History Society, Friends of the Suffolk Record Office, Suffolk Records Society, the National Horseracing Museum, National Trust, Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, Association for Suffolk Museums, Suffolk County Council and English Heritage.
- Overseeing the development, implementation and monitoring of a Suffolk Heritage Strategy which protects and preserves Suffolk’s heritage offer for the future.
- Promoting and raising the profile of Suffolk’s heritage.
- Identifying areas in service provision which would benefit from a joined-up approach and working to enhance and extend existing successful services and initiatives.
Suffolk Heritage Review
To ensure services are developed to better meet ongoing challenges and opportunities, the Suffolk Record Office is currently working with experts to undertake a ‘light touch’ but critically-friendly service review. Any recommendations which follow from this review will inform the developing heritage strategy, as well as the Record Office’s own future work programmes and way of operating. The review has been developed in line with revised Government archive policy - Archives for the 21st Century in action: refreshed 2012-15.
A new Heritage Centre for Suffolk
Work on the feasibility study to identify a preferred location is ongoing and we are continuing to work closely with our colleagues in Ipswich Borough Council, St Edmundsbury Borough Council, West Suffolk College and the University Campus Suffolk in developing a full business case for a new heritage centre for Suffolk. Over the coming months we will also be looking to explore opportunities with all the district and borough councils and a variety of independent cultural heritage organisations to widen access to our heritage collections in future using existing facilities.
Digitisation of heritage collections
Work has started on developing a business case and five-year action plan for digitising heritage collections in line with the new digitisation strategy approved by Cabinet in October 2012. County Council officers will be supported by experienced and skilled professionals in their research, options appraisal and the shaping and writing of the business case for the new digital platform and services.
Proposals and supporting papers relating to both the New Heritage Centre for Suffolk and the business case for digitisation of collections will be available to the public before any final decisions are made by The Cabinet.
If you would like any further information, or have any comments, please contact the project manager, Marie Finbow by email at email@example.com or by telephone on 01473 260538.