It’s not every day that Blackpool’s Golden Mile and the Great Wall of China appear in the same sentence.
Google them as a pairing, in fact, and the only thing that comes up is a link to a feature on ‘1,001 things to do before you die’, which suggests eating fish and chips on the former, and taking a walk on the latter. Or possibly the other way round.
But that could all be set to change. Last Thursday I announced the full list of applicants to gain a place on the UK’s next Tentative List for nomination to become a future UNESCO World Heritage Site.
So Blackpool, the Lake District and Jodrell Bank, to name but three, have all put themselves forward to be assessed by an expert panel and, if they are judged to be sufficiently heritaginous* and if their management plan for the future of the site is appropriately robust, they will become part of an even longer process which culminates in them becoming UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The prospect of a fact-finding ministerial mission to each of them is, of course, attractive, although my chance of swinging a trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British dependency in the Caribbean (one of the less obvious – but entirely splendid, I’m sure – names on the list) is, to be honest, very remote.
But that notwithstanding, this is rather exciting stuff for the places involved and I wish them all the very best of luck.
Taking stock and drawing conclusions
I’ve been in this job for around 50 days now and it seems fitting to pause for a moment and take stock. What have I been up to?
The dull, but inevitable, truth is that – as the only member of the ministerial team who didn’t ‘shadow’ this department before the election – I have had to spend a lot of time reading myself in to my policy areas, meeting the people in my sectors who have expert insight into what ‘our’ world needs from Government (and preparing to meet a whole lot more of them), and getting to know the civil servants here who provide the detailed policy advice and background information on it all.
- Tourism really is an absolutely key element in our economy and will be a mighty driver in our recovery. It’s an industry that’s in pretty good shape, but is sorely in need of a champion in Government who will speak up for it and, while they’re about it, chuck some petrol and a lighted match on some of the rules and regulations that are holding it back (and that goes for licensing and, to a lesser extent, gambling too).
- Our heritage and built environment is in fantastically good hands with English Heritage who are doing a brilliant job protecting, preserving and promoting it. And doing so despite dreadful funding pressures. And don’t forget, we are not by any means the only country to have fine buildings, a glorious history and a stunning landscape. There’s a reason why our history and heritage are such an important part of our attractiveness to visitors: and that’s because most of it is in the hands of people who are passionate about it and, best of all, are really good at passing on that knowledge and excitement to others.
- The team here at the DCMS are a fine and enthusiastic bunch but, like the rest of the public sector, we’re going to have a rotten few months ahead while the big, Whitehall-wide decisions on spending and efficiency are made. No one does their best work with an axe over their head, but my team are making the best of it, and I’m grateful.
- The perks of office have not turned out to be as many and various as promised by the papers. Indeed, I am grateful to The Sunday Express for revealing the shameful truth that the sum total of freebies so far received by your humble ministerial blogger is four. That’s right, four. Three mugs and a guide book. The mugs have come in handy, though. When I first arrived here, I was offered tea in a delicate china cup and saucer and, feeling the need for more than a thimbleful of the refreshing civil service brown stuff, I called for a mug. There had to be one somewhere, I reckoned. And there was. Just one. A good size vessel with a fine political slogan from the last administration – something of eye-popping originality about striving to create a fair and just society, for the many not the few – and I knew it was for me. Sadly, my Private Secretary thought differently. I had crossed a line and back came the cup and saucer for me. Until, that is, the estimable, wise and generous folk at firstly Visit Britain and Visit England and then The National Trust, presented me with their own branded ware, and at last everyone was happy. Political propriety was observed, order was returned, stakeholder management was embraced, and I got a decent size mug of tea.
That’s all for this week. Next time I’ll talk about something else. Not sure at the moment what it’ll be but I have some plans for what’s called ‘dormant betting accounts’ so that may be the subject. But don’t bet on it or, if you do, don’t forget to pick up your winnings if you win.
*This is an entirely new word, by the way. We are the department for Culture, after all.