Funding of the arts and heritage

Written evidence submitted by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) (arts 123)

SUMMARY

· The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the House of Commons, Culture, Media and Sport Committee Inquiry on Funding of the Arts and Heritage. This comes at a crucial time for the Scheme, following the Government’s announcement of its intention to close its sponsored body – the Museums Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) – in March 2012, and the fact that the sector as a whole is facing severe spending cuts.

· The PAS is a network of 50 staff, managed by the British Museum and funded via the MLA, who records archaeological objects found by the public for public benefit.

· Currently the PAS costs £1.607M p/a: £1.412M of the funding comes from MLA, £5K from CyMAL, £83K from the British Museum, and £107K from local partners, who employ the Scheme’s staff. With the pending abolition of the MLA it is not clear how, and through whom, the PAS will be funded, though the British Museum is an obvious possibility, assuming full/adequate funding is also transferred.

· Like all public bodies in the sector the PAS is vulnerable to funding cuts. Given the Scheme costs a relatively small amount and over 92% of costs are salary costs, any such cuts would have a disproportionate impact; making it unable to operate a national recording service for finders of archaeological objects, but also of great detriment to the archaeological record and museum collections.

· A 5% cut would be the equivalent of losing at least 3 Finds Liaison Officer posts;

· A 10% cut would be the equivalent of losing at least 6 Finds Liaison Officer posts;

· A 15% cut would be the equivalent of losing at least 9 Finds Liaison Officer posts.

INTRODUCTION

· The PAS is the only proactive mechanism for systematically recording archaeological finds made by the public. It funds 40 locally based archaeologists, known as Finds Liaison Officers, 6 period specialists (Finds Advisers) and a central unit of 4 others. Since 1997, when the Scheme was established, it has recorded over 637,000 finds, many of which may have never otherwise been recorded. Important finds recorded through the Scheme included the Staffordshire Hoard (an Anglo-Saxon hoard of over 1,600 gold and silver objects), the Frome Hoard (a Roman pot containing over 52,500 coins) and the Staffordshire Moorlands Pan (a Roman vessel inscribed with the names of forts on Hadrian’s Wall).

· The data collated by the PAS is made publically available on its website – www.finds.org.uk – and transferred to Historic Environment Records. This data is a useful source for people wanting to find out about the archaeology of their local area. It is also becoming an increasingly useful dataset for academic research. 187 researchers are currently using PAS data, which is beginning to transform the archaeological map of Britain. For example, PAS data has increased the number of known Roman sites in Warwickshire and Worcestershire by 30%, and more than doubled the known archaeological sites in Lincolnshire.

· The PAS also has an important educational role, enabling everyone with an interest in the past to get involved in archaeology and bring the past to life. Since 2003, over 252,000 people have attended more than 10,280 events organised by the PAS, including talks, finds days and events for children. As part of the Council for British Archaeology’s Festival for British Archaeology 2010, the PAS took part in 75 events, which were attended by 8,430 adults and 2,952 children, an examined more than 1,706 finds.

· The PAS is fundamental to the working of the Treasure Act 1996. Its Finds Liaison Officers advise finders of their legal obligations to report Treasure, write coroner’s reports on them, and courier finds to the British Museum for expert analysis and valuation. Since 2003, when the PAS was extended to the whole of England and Wales, the number of finds reported Treasure has increased on average by almost 210%.

THE IMPACT OF RECENT, AND FUTURE, SPENDING CUTS

· Following the Chancellor’s emergency budget, MLA cut PAS funding by £5K, which the Scheme was able to absorb.

· It is currently unclear what cuts (if any) might be imposed on the PAS, and therefore the table below outlines the possible effects of a 5%, 10% and 15% cut:

Cost

Impact of cut: based on the cost (salary and on costs) of an average FLO post (£26,800)

5%

£80,350

3 posts

10%

£160,700

6 posts

15%

£241,050

9 posts

· Currently the PAS employs 40 Finds Liaison Officers, of whom 10 are part-time: these are all currently funded through Renaissance.

· A 5% cut would result in some post closures. Depending on what posts were identified for closure, the PAS might be able to maintain a national scheme. With a 10% cut, the Scheme would be forced to ensure that some areas of the country are covered by neighbouring Finds Liaison Officers, or covered on a part-time basis. With a 15% cut it is uncertain how the PAS could maintain a national scheme, meaning that many archaeological finds, including Treasure, would go unreported.

· Without a local Finds Liaison Officer it is unclear how any archaeological discoveries (including Treasure) would be reported: before the PAS was established the reporting of such finds was uncommon, as most local museums neither had the resources or expertise to adequately identify such finds, let alone record them. In the first instance finders might attempt to record their finds with their local museum, assuming the local curator is willing, able or competent to record such finds. This would obviously impact on local museum resources, normally met by the local authority. More likely, many finders would not bother to record their finds and this loss of information would be of great detriment to the archaeological record and public collections.

· Without a national PAS the Treasure Act 1996 would be unworkable. Under the Act finders have a legal obligation to report Treasure to the local coroner in the district the object was found. In practice, finders report Treasure finds to their local Finds Liaison Officer (who informs the coroner of the find), normally when they come to their metal-detecting club. They then write a report on the find and it is delivered to the British Museum. Without a local Finds Liaison Officer, it may fall to the local museum to accept Treasure, write a report on it, and courier it to the national museum for valuation etc.

· If the PAS was no longer able to offer national coverage, it is likely many archaeologists and museum curators would argue for metal-detecting to be regulated and/or restricted.

THE IMPACT OF THE ABOLITION OF THE MUSEUMS, LIBRARIES & ARCHIVES COUNCIL

· MLA (formerly the Museums & Galleries Commission) has been involved in the management of PAS since the Scheme was established in 1997. Its role has been one of channelling funding for the Scheme: it headed the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund that established a national Scheme; and became the mechanism for funding the project when DCMS recognised PAS should be funded through central Government.

· Following cuts to MLA in the 2008 Comprehensive Spending Review, PAS was also subject to proposed cuts.

· At this time 229 MPs of all parties signed EDM 566, which stated: ‘That this House recognises the great contribution of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to transforming the archaeological map of Britain by proactively recording archaeological finds made by the public; celebrates the fact that in 10 years the scheme has recorded on its public database more than 300,000 archaeological finds, which would not have otherwise been reported, for the benefit of all; expresses concern at the likely impact of funding cuts proposed for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), following the recent Comprehensive Spending Review, on the PAS; and urges the Government to ensure that the scheme is at least able to maintain its current levels of activity and to consider urgently whether MLA offers the best home for the PAS or whether another body, such as the British Museum, would not be better placed to provide PAS with a long-term sustainable future’.

· Following an independent review of the PAS, it was agreed there were enough synergies between PAS and Renaissance for Renaissance funding to be used to fund the Scheme.

· The abolition of the MLA resurrects the question of where PAS best sits. Given that the PAS is managed by the British Museum, on behalf of MLA, and that the British Museum also administers the Treasure process, it seems sensible that PAS is now fully transferred to the British Museum, but it is essential that adequate funding is transferred at the same time.

· In an article on the political parties’ priorities for archaeology published before the election (British Archaeology, March-April 2010) both the then Minister, Margaret Hodge, and then Shadow Minister, Ed Vaizey, singled out PAS as one of the most important initiatives in archaeology, and both of them pledged their support for it.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

· Funding cuts would have a disproportionate effect on the PAS. The Scheme would no longer be able to provide a national recording service for finders across England and Wales, and many important archaeological discoveries would go unrecorded.

· PAS should be transferred to the British Museum, assuming full/adequate funding is transferred from MLA/Renaissance.

September 2010