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?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Gifts to Keep the Flow of Artefacts Coming

The boys on "Detecting Wales" are discussing the Xmas gifts they give to keep their farmers sweet. The posting of "Superhero member" "Chef Geoff" was inadvertently revealing, imagine how grateful the poor sap of a farmer is:
I'm pretty predictable, a Christmas card, a bottle of wine and some chocolates for the family. [ ;wink]

Finds for 2011
Roman coins:- Nummus 96, Dupondius 2, Denarius 3, Sestertius 3, Folis 5.
Roman Brooches:- 23
Hammered Coins:- 35
Celtic Stater:- 1
[...] And every one self recorded with PAS
and all the farmer got for allowing him to add them to his collection was a bottle of wine and a box of chocolates?

Even valuing that lot at just a few quid each (not forgetting the value of the photos - 500 quid a shout according to some metal detectorists) if that is all the farmer is getting from guys like this, they are getting well ripped off, allowing these collectors to create a valuable private accumulation of antiquities at next to no cost. Perhaps farmers might as a New Year's resolution decide to take an interest in the metal detecting magazines, especially the bits about "how much are my finds worth" and how much some of even the more pedestrian "nummi" go for on eBay?

By the way, the rate at which "Cheff Geoff" has been finding the recordable finds he lists above is FIVE times the rate of the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter. Whether or not they are "recorded" is irrelevant, erosion is erosion, and it is happening at a huge and largely unmitigated rate.