Wednesday, 4 February 2015

"Better than Nothing": How much would it cost to do the PAS properly?

How much would it cost to do the PAS properly? There is a government spending review coming up soon (2016) and this raises the question of how much money the PAS actually needs to do the job properly. Can we afford a PAS that is merely "better than nothing" as detectorist Paul Northmoor wrote to the Cyprus Mail and how much would it cost to have a PAS that does the job? The PAS used to have 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.
Just a few years later, on page 9 of the 2005/6 annual report it was announced bluntly “The final aim […] has been achieved”. I wrote about this here. This is very odd as it was only last year - after a decade of some of us pointing out the shortcoming in the data in this area - that the PAS attempted an estimate of the total number of recordable finds hoiked from the ground by members of the public with metal detectors. Although they made a bit of a pig's ear of the whole thing, the results they came up with were thought-provoking. Their estimate was that some 266 000 objects were being hoiked into detectorists' pockets annually - and they were recording only about 80000 annually. As I pointed out (earning for my pains the label "not very nice" from dismissive tekkies unwilling to discuss its implications) that means that 186000 objects are going unrecorded each year.

It costs 1.3 million quid by direct funding (costs met by local authorities who supply office space etc not included) to record 80 000 objects a year. So - bearing in mind that's not all that FLOs do (some quickly excavate hoards on rallies for example and some even do outreach), that's a unit cost of  16.25 quid each.

To record those 266000 objects at present workload, the PAS would need to have some seventy more employees (106 FLOs excluding admin). Taking the current unit cost that would be a minimum of 4,322,000 a year. That does not take into account that to get better coverage, there would need to be new offices opened, nearer to the artefact hunters who find it difficult to get to the existing ones, and those extra costs would also have to be met.

In functional terms, is a "better than nothing" data collection, a selection (by unclear criteria made by the artefact hunters themselves) of some 30% of the whole, any kind of database on which one can base any serious modern research? 

So in other words, the PAS as it is today is vastly understaffed (it currently has only 30% of the staffing level needed for Britain's policies to actually work) and underfunded. At present it gets 1.3 million instead of the 4.3 million needed. No wonder the Minister does not want to answer the question of whether at present funding it is effective.

So, can Britain (England and, for the moment, Wales) actually afford a PAS that does the job of mitigating the erosion of the archaeological record caused by the 'history takers'?  How can the latter talk of 'saving history' if two out of every three items are lost from sight the moment they leave the archaeological record? We are losing history because of the government's neglect in checking how well the Scheme is able to do.

And if Britain cannot afford to do it, what about the suggestion of creating one on Cyprus to allow the relaxing of metal detecting laws there? Discuss.

Vignette: where can the money come from? Or should we do it another way?


heritageaction said...

Not sure that increasing PAS staffing would be fully cost effective in terms of yielding commensurate increases in reporting. After all, the two thirds of not-reported artefacts are a function of ignorance and selfishness not lack of PAS staff. It can be paraphrased as "It's voluntary, innit, so I won't".

I suppose that twice as many visits to the back room of the Bull and Bush on club nights would yield more items but the (unknown) amount of false find spot information wouldn't drop at all and anyway personally I wouldn't want Britain to humiliate itself still further, going cap in hand to make it convenient for such people to hand over knowledge that decent citizens would do without needing to be gackslapped and flattered.

More PAS would mean more Bonkers Britain. Regulating the activity instead would be merely sane - and would cost a lot less.

And of course, the real winning strategy would be the current PAS outreaching to landowners so that the message would be hammered home to people smart and responsible enough to understand it. Te effect per pound would soar. Never mind chatting up the Ds and Es, how about explaining it to the Fs (Farmers!).

Sam Ofnett said...

That really is a lot of money so these people can do their hobby without us all losing out. There must be another way.

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