Which policy frameworks are most significant to the heritage sector?

This resource discusses the government departments and their online policies and codes of practice relevant to your heritage organisation. It also provides a framework for you to carry out a best practice audit to see where improvements can be made.

This resource is available in English and Welsh
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Image courtesy of VisitBritain © Penelope Bielckus

Which policy frameworks are most significant to the heritage sector?

1. Introduction

In your day-to-day work you will have already come across policies and codes of practice which you are expected to incorporate into how you run your organisation and teams. Many of these policies are now available in digital formats. Accessing these documents online should make it easier for you to comply with them and search for sections relevant to your query.

The ease with which you can access these documents also supports you in completing a best practice audit of your organisation to see how well you comply. In this resource we explain which UK government policies and codes of practice are relevant for the culture and heritage sector. At the end, you have an opportunity to complete a best practice audit and think about any improvements you want to make.


2. Applying UK government policy and codes of practice

Our expert, Patrick Glen, University of Leeds, discusses which policies and codes of practice might apply to your organisation.

Understanding how to access and apply policies to your organisation begins with knowing which government departments focus on heritage and heritage development.

Government policy

There are three government departments responsible for policy in the heritage sector:

  • the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
  • the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) and
  • the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales also have national policies on heritage. (See the further reading section later on in this resource for examples of Welsh policy frameworks).

Government policies are ‘statements of the government’s position, intent or action’. Most policy and legislation regarding heritage concerns planning, historic buildings and the natural environment. So typical examples include policies restricting certain kinds of development in designated heritage areas, approaches to the preservation of historic buildings or the preservation of significant wildlife habitats.

Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)

The DCMS issues policy and guidance on the protection of historic buildings, scheduling of monuments, and the reform of heritage protection.

The Department has several other roles concerning heritage. Their Culture and Heritage Capture Programme provides a standardised approach to valuing culture and heritage resources in England, which relates to funding opportunities for heritage organisations. They also work to encourage heritage organisations to take an environmentally sustainable approach.

The DCMS’s 2001 White Paper outlined numerous approaches to local heritage protection. The paper highlights the benefits of heritage protection on community cohesion and rural development. To realise these benefits, the DCMS is working to develop the capacity of local authorities, communities and organisations to take ownership of ‘heritage assets’.

They provide advice and training about best practice in digital heritage through their support of Digital Skills for Heritage. The offer is administered by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and includes online seminars and in-person networking events.

Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC)

The DLUHC have responsibility for the National Planning Policy Framework which oversees the planning system and therefore concerns the historic built and natural environment. Section 16 of the framework focuses specifically on aspects of planning related to heritage with a focus on conservation and the role local planning authorities have when addressing new developments in these historic areas.

This framework can help your organisation advocate for conserving historic and natural environments in responsible ways.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)

DEFRA generates policy concerned with the natural environment and heritage conservation. For example, their policies on how organisations respond to climate change, the use of chemicals and pesticides, and plant varieties and seeds can be especially useful for heritage organisations with gardens or working farmland.

The UK has also signed the UN World Heritage Convention (the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and National Heritage). This mandates that the government must support efforts to identity, protect and conserve heritage, while also presenting it to the public and educating younger generations – a commitment that supports the work of many heritage organisations around the country.

Codes of practice

Historically, museums and heritage organisations have benefited from an ‘arm’s length principle’ in regards to collections and education, giving them a significant degree of autonomy and editorial independence from political interference. However, in 2020 the government introduced a new policy of ‘retain and explain’ in response to protests and public debates regarding the removal or re-contextualisation of monuments and artefacts depicting divisive figures from Britain’s colonial past.

Graffiti on a statue that reads 'BLM' and posters that read 'silence is violence', 'black lives matter' and 'in unity we have strength'
The aftermath of the removal of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston showing an empty plinth, graffiti and placards. The statue was pulled down on 7 June 2020 during a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England.

This development highlights the potential effect of government policies on professional practice, decolonising activities and funding opportunities. The Museums Association has several resources relating to ‘retain and explain’ which illustrate the impact this policy is having on heritage organisations.

Sources of guidance

Historic England offer guides to good practice for local heritage organisations. Their Good Practice Guide for Local Heritage Listing (PDF file 1.38MB) provides guidance for the selection and listing of buildings and structures to create local heritage lists, for instance. It also contains a number of useful case studies to help you think through the process.

The Museums Association offer an extensive array of reports that provide advice on best practice. These include a code of ethics, advice on environmental sustainability, learning and engagement, and ‘decolonisation’.

Professional associations for the heritage sector can also provide advice and guidance on policy frameworks that might apply to your organisation. They examine the competence of their members, assert codes of practice and encourage continual professional development. These associations include: the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists, Institute of Historic Building Conservation, Landscape Institute and Royal Institute of British Architects.

Historic England provides a complete list of the professional associations for the heritage sector on their website.


3. Undertaking a best practice audit for your organisation

Read The Heritage Fund’s Good Practice Guidance. This covers the areas shown in bold in the list below. We have also added other areas for you to review. You won’t need every category, but by identifying gaps in your practice you can improve the preparedness, approach and resilience of your organisation. Consider each relevant list item in turn and think about the strengths and actions you need to take. You can do this in any format but you can also use this simple best practice audit template (Word document, 206kb).

  • Environmental sustainability
  • Education
  • Inclusion
  • Wellbeing
  • Skills and Training
  • Organisational resilience
  • Conservation
  • Public collaboration
  • Business planning
  • Digital and online
  • Evaluation
  • Volunteering
  • Procurement
  • Historic built environment
  • Historic natural environment
  • Ethics
  • Decolonisation

Further reading (Welsh policy frameworks)


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Audit Framework Government Policy
Published: 2022
Resource type: Articles

Creative Commons Licence Except where noted and excluding company and organisation logos this work is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 (CC BY 4.0) Licence

Please attribute as: "Which policy frameworks are most significant to the heritage sector? (2022) by Dr Patrick Glen supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, licensed under CC BY 4.0


More help here

Digital Heritage Hub is managed by Arts Marketing Association (AMA) in partnership with The Heritage Digital Consortium and The University of Leeds. It has received Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and National Lottery funding, distributed by The Heritage Fund as part of their Digital Skills for Heritage initiative. Digital Heritage Hub is free and answers small to medium sized heritage organisations most pressing and frequently asked digital questions.

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