After the Cuts: Scorched earth, or clean slate? (Part II)

12 mins read

Editor-in-chief, Andrew Selkirk offers his insight on some issues raised by spending cuts.

How will universities fare under the new regime, where funds will go to students rather than to universities?

Archaeology is not exactly a subject that will set you up to become a big earner, so will archaeology inevitably go into decline? I suggest that archaeology at university has a choice of direction.

Some universities may choose to become more `professional’, aiming to turn out professional archaeologists with lots of digging skills and the ability to work in big organisations. Other universities might go in the opposite direction and teach archaeology as English and History have been traditionally taught, as `training for life’, to turn you out as a civilised gentleman or lady, who can then turn their hands to the rather more useful (or at least lucrative) discipline of accountancy.

Or perhaps there is a third way: a university course that is aimed at the more mature student who, on reaching retirement, wishes to become a local archaeologist, taking the raw material of excavation reports churned out by professional archaeologists, and turning them into history.

Which way will universities go?   Choose your market, and offer your wares accordingly.

Sometimes cuts are good, if it means cutting back on unwieldy bureaucracy

I can think of least two huge bureaucracies where cuts would be greatly beneficial to archaeology.   The first is the CRB – the Criminal Records Bureau. The doctrine that all adults working with children need a CRB check has meant that many local societies are no longer prepared to take children on their excavations: they do not want the hassle, the expense, and the humiliation of having their members undergo these checks. It is, frankly, demeaning to believe that all adults have criminal intent towards children. This is a huge bureaucracy that has gone too far, and is doing more harm than good.

Secondly, the Charities Commission. The Charities Act 2006 has been a disaster. Charities are now overburdened with red tape and all members of a committee are now meant to be trustees, which means that they are all liable personally if anything goes wrong. Obviously people are then less inclined to serve on a committee of charitable organisations. Additionally, the average Report and Accounts of a charity, which used to be two pages long, has now doubled or trebled. The Society of Antiquaries, for instance, has just produced a Report and Accounts which is a monstrous 53 pages long. How many Fellows are going to read it at this length?   And if they do not read it, what is the point of having a Report and Accounts?

Worst of all, charities are now meant to indulge in social engineering, to alleviate the wrongs in society. The idea that the search for knowledge is, in itself, charitable seems to have been forgotten. The Charities Act needs to be repealed or, at the very least, amended.

One could make a start by sacking the entire Board of the Charity Commission, starting with the Chairman.

What the amateurs say: contributions from the Council for Independent Archaeology…

Alastair Penman,  Excavator of Botel Bailey

As a Scottish Charity and a training dig, we are a voluntary unit.   No wages are paid out and very little in expenses. We have survived since 1992 on a shoestring. Until this year, we have relied on donations from the public on site, but with the credit crunch there are fewer visitors – so, less money in our collecting boxes. The day is coming when we will have to charge the volunteers and students some sort of fee. When we set up our unit, we never envisaged this. We are there to train the students, and give the volunteers a fun holiday and an interest. The average age of our students is 20-25, and our volunteers are all, in the main, in their 60’s and 70’s.

My main gripe must be aimed at organisations such as Archaeology Scotland with their Scottish Archaeology Month. They expect us to organise this at our own expense, have someone onsite every day in September (no matter what the weather), and give us almost no publicity. Yet we find that the CBA and Solway Heritage, who also run these weeks and weekends, are a great help and support. Does anyone other than the Council for Independent Archaeology really support us?

Kate Dennett

I think the idea that amateurs/volunteers can fill the perceived gap is nonsense. When commercial work is available, it is very high pressure and very much tied in with working with the developer/builders and the progress of the building work. Keeping major building machinery and labour hanging about can cost a huge amount of money. Insurance, and health and safety awareness is a further complication.

There is a role for the amateur/volunteer, but this type of co-operation is less available now, as is the opportunity for degree courses that do not run their own digs. Most people in our local society who like to volunteer do not have the time to do so full time, as would be required; and those who are capable of supervising and organising are already working, either in archaeology or some other job.

Ed Archer,  Lanark and District Archaeological Society

The cuts are having an effect up here. First, our local library is now part of a Trust, and we had to get rid of most of it. The second effect will be a hike in cost for room hire for our lectures, which has implications for membership fees.

We are also concerned cutbacks in heritage will have implications regarding the protection of monuments. Recently, local developers have gone ahead with work without calling in the archaeologists – obviously, in these times, they thought they could go ahead regardless.

Another problem is that grant money is very much harder to come by.

Could the crisis be an opportunity? The answer, for us, is no! Working with professionals is important, as we do not have all the expertise and knowledge that they have. Hopefully, professionals will begin to see the amateurs as an opportunity rather than a threat. Working together to find solutions is the only way forward.

Anonymous contributor

Over the past five years, I have applied to about five organisations who, between them, grant us small sums adding up to between £3,000 and £5,000 annually. I have noticed over the last two years that the organisations who award money now grant about half of what we have received previously, so I have had to become more wide-ranging in finding new funding to make up the shortfall.

I found a new source of funds last year and applied for more money than ever before – and got it all. The reason for this was that I listened carefully to the advice of the advisor to the trustees. I happen to know this fund is suffering from low interest rates, so the trustees made a decision to spend the capital, rather than preserve it to farm the interest. For this reason they are giving grants that are bigger than would have been the case if they had only the interest to distribute, which has definitely worked in our favour. As an active community group, our success has been noted by the professional community, who are also feeling the pinch; we now have offers to work alongside them, as volunteers, on sites that we would not have been able to access before the current crisis.

Kathleen Morris

The ‘cuts’ may be beneficial to amateur archaeology if they sort out those groups that have a life of their own and run their own projects within their own budgets, from those that exist as a labour pool for professional archaeologists who want to carry out grant funded ‘community’ projects on a top-down basis. Many recently formed groups fall into the latter category.

Ren Hudspith,  East Riding Archaeological Society

As Chairman of an active archaeological society, I have taken the approach that we, as amateurs/volunteers, should not compete with professionals during the recession. The professionals are now doing very small scale excavations/watching briefs, which, in the past, might have been passed to us. Our main concern is that any cuts in Government funding for charities may impact on our being able to maintain our HQ building – all donations gratefully received!

My thanks to Jan Bailey, secretary of the Council for Independent Archaeology, who posted my request for information on the Council’s email newsletter, and brought in these replies.   AS

See Part I of this article for the experts’ perspective on the cuts.

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