Friday, October 7, 2011

How Much is this Portable Antiquities Scheme Costing?

It has been pointed out in the blog how far Wales has been lagging behind the rest of the country when it comes to the recording of finds taken from the archaeological record by artefact hunters. The Museums Journal about a year ago reported (Sharon Heal, 'Funding cut for Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales', Museums Journal 26.11.2010) that in November 2010 the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in England wrote to Alun Jones, the minister for heritage in Wales, to say that funding for the Portable Antiquities Scheme would be withdrawn from April 2012 with the hope that the costs would be picked up by the Welsh taxpayer through the Welsh Assembly Government and NMW.
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). The money funds a post based at the national museum in Cardiff and a grants scheme.
Faced with a budget cut of 15% a joint decision was taken by the DCMS and the British Museum (who will be running the Scheme from April 2012) to withdraw from 2012 their £60,000 funding of the PAS in Wales.
PAS director Roger Bland said: "This was a very difficult decision that the British Museum took in conjunction with DCMS. 92% of the costs of running the PAS go on staff, and the current network of finds liaison officers and finds advisers are all fully stretched, so there was no easy way to implement cuts of 15%. In the case of Wales there was an anomaly that funding was going to the devolved administration. We will do all we can to work with the national museum to ensure that PAS continues in Wales." But David Anderson, director general of NMW, said the future of the scheme in Wales was now uncertain and its loss would be a massive blow to the country’s heritage and archaeology.
Only if the erosion of the archaeological record through artefact hunting is allowed to continue at the present rate. At present it is costing everyone at least £75000 a year to run a Scheme in Wales that mainly services some 500 "metal detectorists" to a somewhat minimal degree (for many of the finds they remove from archaeological assemblages appear not to be being recorded). Not only that, it does so at the cost of shielding their erosive hobby from criticism when it is the public's right to know what damage is being done to the archaeological record of their country as a result of current policies. Scrapping the Scheme altogether in favour of other arrangements for mitigating the erosion in Wales and investing some of the money saved into expanding the services offered the public by existing museums would be beneficial. It will soon emerge whether Welsh artefact hunters are as "responsible" as their supporters claim and the removal of an umbrella "partner" scheme will allow a wider and more penetrating public debate into the effects of uncontrolled artefact hunting on the archaeological record of Wales. "Metal detectorists" will have to work harder than they currently do at gaining public acceptance by their own deeds (and not through a publicly funded external scheme). This too will put an end to the feelings of entitlement that currently shines through everything these individuals do and write. Let them realise that artefact hunting and collecting at the expense of the integrity of the common archaeological heritage is a privilege to be earned and not a "right" that is exercised at the expense of money taken from other people's pockets to offset the costs of trying to mitigate the damage.

It should be noted that although this news has been on the cards for a year or so, there has been very little forward-looking discussion on the "Detecting Wales" forum of the impending spending cuts to PAS in Wales and the significance this may have for the immediate and long-term future of the hobby in Wales.

Vignette: Mitigating metal detecting - a bottomless money pit.

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