Saturday, November 12, 2011

PAS in Wales "Saved" for Now?

Time was running out for the PAS in Wales, the contracts ran through until the end of March, the British Museum had said that in order to maintain the same number of posts in England as last year, they would no longer be funding the PAS in Wales, leaving this up to the Welsh Assembly government and Museums Archives and Libraries Wales CyMAL. Meanwhile there was this guy who does not consider that the Portable Antiquities Scheme is a solution to England's artefact hunting problem who'd started a blog (you are reading it) which made a case for the removal of PAS cover from Wales being the beginning of an end to current policies of passive tolerance. There was a little stir in the metal detecting community of Wales, three or four of them glanced at the blog, shuddered at the thought of reading all those words, and moved on.

Just recently however one of their number wrote to Wales' First Minister on 14th October with a question "wottabout the future of the PAS then?". The First Minister did not know, the buck was passed, down it went until the tekkie's letter ended on the desk of Linda Tomos, director of CyMAL who sent an answer out on 2nd November.
Dear Mr Langley, Thank you for your email to the First Minister ....
The letter is published in full on the "Detecting Wales" forum. In it Ms Tomos gives a totally superfluous (in the circumstances) summary account of the history of PAS funding from 1998 to the present day and ends thus:
Following a reduction in the ring-fenced funding for the scheme from the DCMS, the British Museum advised that it would no longer be able to operate the scheme in Wales. Given its success and popularity[,] officials in CyMAL: Museums Archives and Libraries Wales have explored alternative options. We have therefore been in extensive contact with the British Museum, which has agreed to continue providing some financial support. The Minister has also recently agreed additional funding from the Welsh Government. These steps will ensure the continuation of the scheme, including the important post of Finds Liaison Officer, in Wales.
It would seem that the PAS is not seen over in Wales as a means of heritage preservation (mitigation of damage caused by artefact hunting by preservation by record) but something which is "popular" and "successful". How this popularity and success are measured is not explained, the Scheme certainly had very little success getting anything like a decent number of finds recorded compared to what was lost. In fact one wonders whether that was the motivation of the BM's backtracking on the decision to cut funding. One can imagine that, instead of desultory few showing a dribble of their finds as seems to have been the case up till now, a few dozen artefact hunters from Glamorgan taking most of the recordable stuff they find along to the museum in Cardiff for recording could easily have produced the same figures as a whole year's worth of PAS "outreach". This really would have called into question the value of spending all those millions on a PAS - and those questions might have been asked this time by more than a few bloggers.

To be honest, being "in extensive contact with the British Museum" who had earlier said in effect, "you are on your own" really does not sound to me very much like "exploring alternative options". It rather says that at present there ARE no other options than a BM cash handout from its own budget. This is particularly important since for a decade or so the PAS had a fifth aim: "To define the nature and scope of a scheme for recording portable antiquities in the longer term, to access the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice", which they announced in their annual reports a few years ago they had "fulfilled" - but without revealing what their conclusions had been. Obviously they were not communicated to CyMAL either.

Ms Tomos does not reveal any of the nuts and bolts details, the promise of how much cash their pleading squeezed out of the BM, or the amount of financial backing the Welsh Government will be supplying. Neither is it explained why, is this just because the Scheme is "popular"? At what level of operation will the Welsh Government be happy that its investment has been well repaid? What obviously is needed is not just the "continuation" of the PAS but its expansion, strengthening, incorporation into the legislative and administrative measures concerning the preservation of the archaeological and historical heritage of Wales.

So, the PAS coverage (I use the term loosely) of Wales has reportedly been "saved" for now. How long it can limp on remains to be seen.


  1. Yet why is the Welsh Government only saying that it is considering the options? See the discussion here.

  2. Paul
    It seems that the email to the First Minister and the formal response from Linda Tomos of CyMAL were not included in the FOI response from Welsh Government (and signed by Linda Tomos). What was left out of the response and why?

  3. It all looks decidedly fishy to me.

    Perhaps you should do another one asking whether any Assembly Members are metal detectorists...