Government to set up working group to create guidelines for how heritage bodies talk about history

The move comes amid concerns from ministers that organisations are attempting to 'rewrite Britain's past'

A working group is being set up by the government to create national guidelines for how culture and heritage bodies talk about British history.

The plans were announced after a summit between 25 of the UK's biggest heritage bodies and charities and Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, yesterday.

In a tweet after the event, Dowden said it was a “very productive conversation about protecting heritage for future generations”.

The government has escalated its “war on woke” against so-called “cancel culture” recently after concerns from a number of ministers that organisations are attempting to rewrite Britain's past.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said details of the working group’s guidelines on how to “retain and explain” heritage would be announced in due course.

The National Trust has found itself at the centre of this debate after it published a report that researched its properties’ links to slavery.

The report, published in September last year, showed connections between 93 of its historic places and colonialism and historic slavery.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Hilary McGrady, director-general of the National Trust, said: “The meeting with the culture secretary and other sector leaders was a helpful and productive discussion about the challenges and opportunities we all face when exploring and communicating our history.

“The National Trust aims to be transparent, factual and honest about the places we care for.

“We continue to follow the government’s policy of retain and explain, ensuring the fascinating complexity of British history is revealed in a balanced and respectful way.”

The report by the National Trust last year sparked fierce debate on social media about the charity’s work, and some publications speculated that it could lead to a “members’ revolt”.

But a request by Third Sector made under the Freedom of Information Act found the Charity Commission received just three complaints about the trust's report.

The British Museum and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, which was one of the bodies that provided the National Trust with funding for its research project, also attended the summit, but declined to comment further.

After learning of the meeting’s announcement last week, some in the sector accused the government of malpractice and an abuse of power, while others advised organisations to boycott the meeting all together.

A DCMS spokesperson said: "This was a very useful conversation about how we work together to protect our heritage for future generations. 

“We will now set up a working group to produce national guidelines on how culture and heritage bodies can put the government's 'retain and explain' policy into practice, so that more people can engage in our shared past."

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