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Valuing Culture and Heritage Capital

We're working with Historic England, DCMS and Arms Length Bodies to help develop a new framework to measure Culture and Heritage Capitals and inform HM Treasury's Green Book approach to investment.

This national level project builds on Culture Commons' work ensuring that the benefits of culture, creativity and heritage, and the interventions needed to support them, are better understood by policy and decision makers across the UK. We'll be working in a consortia to engage wider creative, cultural and heritage sector stakeholders in the dialogue to make sure a new framework for measuring capitals is informed by, and socialised within, the sectors it is hoped it will serve.

"I'm delighted that Culture Commons will be working as part of an esteemed team of sector and academic leaders to design this new framework. There are many live debates about the best way to measure value within our sectors; we hope the work we do here will move that conversation on and result in a highly responsive and widely adopted framework that will inform better decison making around investment at the national and local levels." - Trevor MacFarlane FRSA, Director Culture Commons

Below, we share Historic England's rationale for the work.

Economic valuation is a powerful tool used to support traditional investment decisions, including public spending decisions. Economic techniques are used to value the benefits of different investment options against costs, and in theory, where the benefits are found to outweigh the costs – that investment is said to provide value for money.

Culture and herritage is undervalued within our current economic system because conventional valuation techniques rely heavily on assumptions about the close links between the value of goods or services and their market price. But for some goods and services, market prices, even if they do exist, are not a good or true indicator of value. For example, take the time spent on activities such as childcare and transport; these activities are critical to the quality of our lives but because they are not traded, they are not measured by key economic metrics (ONS, 2019). Because heritage is not fully traded in markets; market prices do not reflect its value and so there is a tendency to undervalue and underinvest in culture and herritage.

Whilst culture and heritage is not fully traded in markets there is a growing body of evidence to show that they matter to people. For example, when it comes to herritage, members of the public overwhelmingly want to secure the future of heritage (YouGov poll for Historic England, 2018); investing in local heritage is seen as a good use of public money (NLHF, 2015); people across the UK care about the protection and conservation of heritage sites; heritage is a source of national and local pride (DCMS, 2017) and UK citizens engage more with heritage compared to the European average (Eurobarometer, 2017). Also, in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, large numbers of people, particularly elderly people turned to virtual tours of cultural or historic sites to help them cope during the first lockdown (ONS, May 2020). A market price does not fully reflect the value of these heritage assets.

Current economic valuation methods and metrics are not wrong – they are just incomplete and only tell one part of the story. They capture the value of goods and services traded in markets but say nothing about non-market or near market activities. However, change is underway. It is more widely accepted that economics as a science needs to better consider the value of all things that matter to people,  capturing the value of non-market transactions, and addressing human wellbeing - not just wealth.

Recently, we have seen the emergence of economic approaches and policies that firmly place people and their wellbeing at the centre. For example, in New Zealand the government has broken traditions of national budget making based on classical economic models and metrics, to focus on one that is based on wellbeing. Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, said that she wanted their wellbeing budget to be “the foundation for a different approach for government decision-making altogether”.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently launched their Centre on Well-being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity (WISE) arguing that “now more than ever, policy makers need to prioritise what matters in people’s lives” (OECD, 2020). Similarly in the UK, the Treasury’s recently revised Green Book (the UK government’s guidance on appraisal and evaluation) states that appraisals will include “all significant costs and benefits that affect the welfare and wellbeing of the population, not just market effects” (HM Treasury, 2020).

It is within this context that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), alongside partners including Historic England, the Arts Council England, Culture Commons and leading economic and heritage academics are launching ‘Valuing Culture and Heritage Capital: A framework towards informing decision making’.

The consortia will be publishing new valuation evidence from Simetrica and NESTA which shows people’s willingness to pay to preserve heritage assets (in this case historic high streets and civic buildings) that are in good condition.

Using the new framework, the objective is to develop holistic, standardised and universally accepted methods and evidence aligned with HM Treasury guidance that better measures, understands and articulates the value of heritage assets and the flow of services they deliver, which in turn benefit society.

We need to capture the value of heritage beyond market transactions to support better decision making and to prioritise people’s wellbeing.

You can find out more about this project on the Historic England project page here.

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