Wednesday, 11 November 2020

How Long Can the PAS Continue Now?

Photo: Bernd Tschakert/Guardian 
Local authorities in Britain are facing increasing serious financial pressures stemming from the Covid pandemic, including the spiralling cost of providing medical support for large numbers of infected people that have developed serious conditions, coupled with an abrupt fall-off in council tax and business rates income (Patrick Butler, 'Tory council leaders warn of severe cuts in England', Guardian 12 Nov 2020) 

The County Councils Network has said that just a fifth of authorities were confident they could meet their legal duty to set a balanced budget next year and avoid effective bankruptcy. In an effort to stave this off, the cash crisis will force them to cut services, from social care to libraries and refuse collection. Over half of its member councils were planning “moderate or severe” service reductions in adult social care, nearly a third were seeking heavy cuts to road repair budgets, and 33% were considering major savings in library services. 

Obviously it is only a matter of time before they reach for further cuts in museums and heritage services, already under pressure. Most of the funding for PAS regional posts (the FLOs) comes from local authorities. Members of the public in their regions are unlikely to be very supportive of taking cuts in the care sector, potholed roads, uncollected binbags all over the cities, while their money goes to some person sitting in a comfy office (or at home with the cat on their lap) recording a few dozen Roman grots a week. The fact that greedy artefact hunters are reluctant to cut back on their activities when PAS is unable to cope with them in real time means the accumulation of a huge backlog that will require consumption of even more resources to clear effectively. 

The PAS has not taken the opportunity of the lockdown period to make its public role more explicit through social media, not produced the outreach/educational material that it could. It has mostly soldiered on trying to supplement the database (its main pre-Covid obsession), rested on the laurels of the old "finds guides" on the website with its dated look and minimal functionality. It has concentrated on its old policy of giving metal detectorists what they want, but there is zero attention paid to the fact that 59.4 million people in its audience [but who pay for the PAS] are NOT metal detectorists (and it would damage the archaeological record even more if they became collectors too under present cionditions). 

So what is PAS's future strategy? In job interviews a frequent question is, "where do you see yourself in five years' time?"... and where does the PAS see itself in five years' time?

But this has interesting knock-on consequences for the collecting community, not just in the UK. This has not only held up the PAS as a shining beacon that could be followed in collaboration with collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record but the PAS has played an enormous (and I would say utterly destructive) role in legitimising artefact hunting and collecting. The PAS has never, in 24 years, taken part in any kind of public discussion of the legitimacy of carelessly and selectively ripping up the archaeological record so people can pocket the artefacts.  Once the PAS is out of the way, it will be easier to examine more objectively and raise social awareness of this issue. 

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