National Trust for Scotland challenges proposal to merge heritage organisations

The conservation charity warns of the risk that the new body, if given charitable status, would compete with existing charities for grants and donations

Bannockburn monument, a Historic Scotland property
Bannockburn monument, a Historic Scotland property

The National Trust for Scotland has raised concerns about a planned merger between the public bodies Historic Scotland and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland because it could create extra competition for charitable donations.

The Scottish government launched a consultation last month on plans to merge the two organisations to create "Scotland’s leading heritage tourism provider".

The consultation says that the new body would be a non-departmental public body but provisions would be made for it to apply to become a charity.

Historic Scotland manages more than 340 properties on behalf of the Scottish government and the RCAHMS collects and records information on Scotland’s heritage.

The National Trust for Scotland warned today that if the two bodies merge and are given charitable status, the new organisation would compete with existing heritage charities for public donations and grants.

In a briefing document for members on the merger, NTS said the new public body would compete with the voluntary sector, which is "wholly dependent on membership support and charitable giving".

"The declared motive for seeking charitable status for the new organisation is to secure donations to sustain its activities, previously funded through taxpayer support and commercial activities," the NTS briefing says. "As a state body with secure taxpayer funding as well as privileged access to government ministers and other government departments, there is a risk that the new body does not operate on a level playing field and squeezes out the voluntary sector."

The NTS calls for a measures to be put in place to ensure a level playing field, including legislation setting out the purposes for which donations will be sought and the way that the new body will work with politicians in raising its profile and establishing relationships with potential funders.

The consultation also proposes that the new body will retain Historic Scotland’s grant-giving function. NTS warned that this could create a conflict of interest because the body itself would be applying for grants.

NTS argued that the new body could treat its own applications for scheduled monument and listed building application more favourably than those of others. It said the new body could use its connections "to undertake commercial initiatives not open to private or voluntary sector competitors".

The consultation closes on 31 July. A spokeswoman for the Scottish government was unable to respond in time for publication.

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National Trust for Scotland

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