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.”