Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is a Welsh PAS Financially Sustainable in the Long Term?

"Proof, if proof were needed,
that collectors and metal detectorists
are getting a big thumbs-up from government".
[Myopic metal-detectorist view on a blog near you]

Over on metal detecting forums and blogs, on hearing the news of a new Heritage Lottery Fund - financed project in Wales, I note that the prevalent mood is of optimism for the future of PAS Wales.  "The government [is] pouring £-millions in to it", one of them wrote. Is that actually so?

The funding of PAS Wales has been a contentious issue for some time now. As earlier posts in this blog indicate the Welsh Scheme has long lagged behind the rest of the country in the degree to which responsible artefact hunting has been taken up. Through financial and organizational constraints, Wales is already down from several (four?) FLOs in 2009-10 to just one now.  In 2010 the breakdown of PAS-Wales funding looked like this:
DCMS currently puts approximately £60,000 into the scheme in Wales, with £10,000 coming from Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales (NMW) and £5,000 from Museums, Archives and Libraries Wales (CyMAL). 
So four years ago it was running on £75,000 a year. A year from now, however the main source of that  funding is scheduled to stop entirely  ("AC-NMW, Cadw and CyMAL will fund the Welsh contribution to the Scheme in equal proportions, taking full responsibility from 2015-16 when the British Museum funding ends").

The Heritage Lottery Fund grant to Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales  is just one of a number of heritage fundraising initiatives supported by the HLF. The money for the so-called "Unearthing the past" project to "create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting" is going to just one of these partner organizations (so where will the other two get the money to finance PAS upkeep?). The whole grant is going to be £349,000 for a four-year period . That's £87,2500 a year (so hardly "£-millions"), but note that out of that will come funds not only for various add-ons which do not currently form part of PAS, but also part will be gobbled up by "targeted purchases of newly discovered artefacts to develop national and local collections over a four year period 2015-2019" (already in part financed in both England and Wales by HLF money).

It would seem from this that in 2015 the PAS (PAS Cymry) will still be being funded by central funds from the BM in addition to the HLF funding (it is not stated when the HLF money will actually be in the Museum's coffers), but from April 2016 there is a distinct possibility that the PAS will be limping along on any money it can get from local government and the HLF grant which will end three years after that.

As for this grant representing any "big thumbs-up from government" (sic), the HLF is not a government department, but is administered by a non-departmental public body - the Board of Trustees of the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF). This in part is directed by policy directions indicated by the DCMS. In the currently evolving state of the devolved government (Wales now has its own Minister for Culture, Tourism and Sport), this arrangement will perhaps be subject to modification.

It seems to me that the grounds for jubilation are sparse here. PAS Wales was late to take off, it developed slowly (despite the dedication of its professional staff) and made little headway in promoting best practice in artefact hunting (visit the pages of the 'Detecting Wales' metal detecting forum for proof of that). It was the first to be cut when central funding cuts started to affect the PAS a few years ago. the latest 'cunning plan' to keep up the façade that Collection-Driven Exploitation and exploiters have been 'tamed' is to go over from central funding from the government (through BM grants) of a service basing outreach on professional archaeologists liaising with the public, to the establishment of regional recording centres, which sound very much like the move to volunteer recording to replace the FLOs in England (Karaoke recording'). This may be "people's archaeology" but it is not the PAS.    

Instead of the new scheme in Wales being a "a big thumbs-up from government for artefact hunting and collecting" as metal detectorists like to consider it, it might be suggested that the government is in effect washing its hands of the whole problem in Wales, casting the recording institutions adrift and forcing them to seek funding elsewhere. While they can, a PAS-like system will limp along, when the funding dries up, it won't. Then metal detectorists will have to look elsewhere for legitimation of their exploitive and destructive hobby.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Welsh Collecting Culture: "like Syria without the guns"

Nigel Swift on the Heritage Action website has the following to say about artefact hunting on Welsh archaeological sites:

As the CBA says, the best way to extract evidence is via “controlled, high-standard archaeological excavation“. So it follows that the proper role for archaeologists to adopt towards metal detecting is to encourage people to mitigate their damage, nothing else. Yet the Welsh Museums (aided by PAS and the Lottery Fund) have just launched a project that effectively promotes artefact hunting providing it’s done well (or in their words, creates “a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting”.) The law of unintended consequences needs noting. Promoting detecting done well also promotes detecting as a whole, so what they regard as applying a conservation brake is actually pressing an exploitation accelerator. There are better actions they could take. For example:
That’s a press report about Syria of course but apart from the guns it describes exactly what has been happening in Wales (and England) routinely on unprotected archaeological sites for donkey’s years. PAS outreaching hasn’t stopped it (at rallies PAS often has a stall next to the artefact dealers, for goodness sake!) and nor will the latest stance by the Welsh museums. Welsh archaeologists and heritage professionals might be better employed persuading the Government to put a stop to that before they try to “create a long-term collecting culture to underpin responsible discovery and reporting.”

Monday, June 3, 2013

There's Definitely Something Wrong with the PAS System in Wales": UK Detectorist

Over on a detecting forum near you, some UK metal detectorists are currently moaning about the "service" provided to them by the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Perhaps somebody should tell them that PAS was not set up for their exclusive convenience and legitimation of their exploitive hobby. I cannot see the PAS itself doing that, though. So we get remarks like this:
“going by the right channels seems a lot of hassle i could not be dealing people who do not do there jobs efficiently i dont blame people for not reporting there finds if this is the way they get treated"
or this kind of thing:
“The rudeness and antiquarian attitude of the representative in London certainly framed my attitude to PAS in that I now have 73 items in my possession that are legible for the scheme but until that guy apologises in public and it is in written form I will not record a thing.”
I like especially the accusation of "antiquarian attitude" coming from an artefact collector ! It seems detectorists are at last taking notice of the message of this blog and they themselves are noting a sad truism:
There is definitely something wrong with the system in Wales as according to the statistics on PAS regarding the amount of finds added to the database in 2012. Somerset had 1825 while the whole of Wales added just 240..... 
One "finder" countered with this:
“For your information a collection of about 200 Flints from one field in Herefordshire were with the PAS for five years when I finally had them back before Xmas. They still have not made there way onto the database.” 
So, assuming that these "flints" were indeed archaeological objects and not natural frost-shatters, PAS Wales could double their "number of finds" statistics as and when it suits them. Of course by number of objects rather than number of meaningful records. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

Treasure Hunting and Finding: Finders-Keepers

What would a metal detectorist do if he found a hoard of gold coins? The supporters of the PAS will inevitably tell you that all metal detectorists are law-abiding and of course they'd do the responsible thing (ie what the law lays down they should do, that is report it to the Coroner). Not in Wales though according to a post on the "Detecting Wales" forum. One "Nfl" (apparently a "Superhero Member" of the forum) made his confession Today at 12:41:15 PM in a thread called "Amateur treasure hunter finds tiny 14th century heart-shaped gold brooch":
theres no sense in any of it ,,,,,,,when i find 50,000 gold saxon coins in a pot im selling em 1 by 1 on flea bay ,,,,,,that,ll tie the site up for a few years 
 And how many fellow forum members protested against such a declaration? When I looked, none had.  Have a look yourselves. Obviously this could easily be done if it is seen as advantageous (for example any money earnt would not have to be split 50:50 with the landowner as would probably be the case if it went through a Treasure inquest). So the question arises not whether it happens, but how often DOES it happen?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Welsh PAS "fix" a Deal Done Behind the Scenes?

The Freedom of Information request to the Welsh government submitted by David Gill to the Welsh Government (see: 'Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales: details published') has raised more questions than it has answers. What is REALLY interesting here is that the FOI request asked for all relevant emails and memoranda to be included, but it turns out from this that in the whole government system in the whole past year that this has been discussed, there have been just TWO documents generated. Two documents which decide not only a major area of heritage policy but also how several hundred thousand pounds of public money are being shifted from the original destination, to another one. Isn't that a bit odd? It looks like there is something more to this than meets the eye. Assuming that Welsh Government has released everything (both documents!), as obliged to do under the FOI act, then it becomes clear that the discussion about this has been outside normal channels, ones that leave no paper trail.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Knee-Jerk "Policy" Making

A few weeks ago David Gill submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Welsh government in an effort to understand what was going on with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The result ('Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales: details published') was quite an eye-opener. The response revealed little real information about the behind-the-scenes doings, but enough to show the usual ad-hoc-approach was being applied to portable antiquity issues.
It turns out that, after the announcement by the British Museum that the funding for the Welsh PAS would be cut, on 26 November 2010, the National Museum of Wales alerted CyMAL to the problem that Wales would need to meet the funding gap of £64K (as David notes, it is worth comparing these figures to the ones that appeared in the PAS press release in November 2010).

It seems from the released documents that almost nothing was done to deal with the problem for a year. The second memorandum from CyMAL on the matter dates from 28 October 2011 and dates from after the agitation of metal detectorists suddenly alerted (among other things by this blog, started at the beginning of October) to the impending demise of the Scheme if nothing was done. It was prompted among other things from the letters being sent to the Minister for Housing, Regeneration and Heritage and CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries by Assembly Members (no doubt prompted by "metal detectorists"). These had a fixed "time for response" term, which is why a 'final' decision had to be taken so quickly. As David Gill notes:
Interestingly the memorandum required a decision by 1 November 2011. In other words the memorandum was sent on a Friday and a decision was required by the following Tuesday. The prompt seems to have come from "metal detecting clubs in Wales".
In fact what the Welsh government say is that "there has been some publicity around the possible threat to the continued operation of the PAS in Wales, particularly from metal detectorists and historians concerned at the possible cessation of the scheme in Wales". The memorandum discusses the arrangements for an announcement: "Rather than a press release ..." it is decided (perhaps to avoid awkward journalistic questions) to keep the announcement low-key as a mere statement on the Welsh Government website, and proposes a draft text for that announcement (see the post below this). Note that the details of the funding are absent from this statement. It also turns out that the text on the PAS website of which Roger Bland claims to be 'author', was in fact penned in a government office in Wales, a long way from Bloomsbury.

These emerge from the 28th October memorandum and they are a total reverse of the original BM money-saving proposal. The expenditure reduction proposed for immediate application in 2012 will not - on this projection - occur until 2014-5. So where is the BM going to get an additional £33550 from? At what cost to other parts of the PAS system will the Welsh PAS be kept on? Where will the Welsh government find the additional £88000 for the next four years ?

The total cost of having a PAS in Wales over the next four years is projected to be £277,080. To what extent is it needed, to service the collecting activities of the handful of Welsh artefact hunters who show some of their finds to it. Let us note that one of the more prolific Welsh 'contributors' to the PAS database enters the information himself, without any recourse to the FLO system. Why does Wales need a separate PAS system ?

Spot the Difference

The draft text ("doc. 1 - Statement of Information" ) of the proposed announcement by the Welsh government recently released under a Freedom of Information request is not identical to that subsequently published ('The future of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales '), and the differences are of interest. Doc 1 refers to a "revised funding package from Wales to support the continued operation of the popular and successful Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Wales for 2012-13 onwards". In the published version the word "onwards" has been removed. Likewise in the final paragraph the section that "the funding package being considered" would allow for "the continuation of the role undertaken by the Welsh Archaeological Trusts", the word "continuation" has been deleted (leaving an ungrammatical sentence). Stylistic changes, or revealing that the proposed changes cannot be envisaged as a permanent solution?