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English Heritage visitor diversity targets 'unrealistic', say MPs

Committee criticises the Department for Culture, Media and Sport strategy, saying there is no plan for how it can be achieved

Targets to increase the number of black, disabled and economically disadvantaged people who visit England's historical attractions are today branded "pointless" by MPs. The public accounts committee said that three key 2008 targets – of which all but one were missed – were unrealistic and set without any plan for how they would be achieved.

The committee's report criticises the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's strategy, arguing that 70% of people visit historical sites and citing polls suggesting that the other 30% choose not to.

English Heritage, the main agency responsible for delivering the targets to increase the proportion of visitors who are from ethnic minorities, poorer homes or have a disability, failed to measure whether its efforts were even affecting the rates of visitors, it says.

The report also raises concerns about a 20% decline in the number of school children visiting English Heritage sites – such as Stonehenge and Hadrian's Wall – in the past five years.

Cuts to English Heritage's £125m annual budget have forced the agency to focus more on its money-making ventures than its public role, it claims. Charges for entry to key historical buildings, such as the cathedrals English Heritage is responsible for, need to be revisited to ensure they are not a bar to visitors.

The Tory MP Edward Leigh, chairman of the committee, said: "It is hard to see what useful purpose was achieved by setting targets to increase visits from this or that under-represented group.

"There was certainly no point in the department's setting targets to widen participation when it did not know how achievable they were, had little understanding of the different factors affecting participation and had no way of measuring the impact of its own actions or those of English Heritage."

The DCMS said: "We welcome the committee's recognition of the continuing high level of heritage participation in this country. The department believes that value for money is really important when investment decisions are taken. That is why realistic targets continue to be set for our objective to get more people participating across culture and sport.

"It is also why, in December 2007, ministers wrote to set out clear priorities for English Heritage to deliver with the money it was getting in the 2007 spending review. A detailed formal response will be made in due course." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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