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

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As the government threatens to cut all its budgets, CA decided to ask a tough question of our colleagues: `The budget cuts have major implications for archaeology. But is it all bad news? Instead of just being about mass unemployment, lower wages, and fear, could it be that this is a chance to repurpose, do things better, and bring archaeology into the 21st century?

What more can be said about the recent government cuts? English Heritage has been cut by 32%, and the rest of the proposed reductions are equally horrific. It is clear that tough times are coming for professional archaeology, which is still on its knees in the wake of the credit crunch. There is a lot of fear — firstly for the inevitable loss of jobs, but also for the knock-on effects on other sectors of archaeology. It is time to stop amidst the doom and gloom and take stock of the positives. These will be the building-blocks of archaeology’s future; identifying them now is the only way to build a clear design and mission for the years ahead.

“When written in Chinese the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger, the other represents opportunity.”

John F Kennedy, 12 April 1959.

Archaeology has become dependent on government money, and therefore vulnerable to government cuts. But where do we go? Where do we find further alternative sources of funding and ideas? In the 1990s, the Government introduced developer funding for rescue excavations, and the Lottery as a source of funding for the heritage generally. Where will the present Government take us? And, wherever that is, will it be in the right direction? Let’s be honest: there have been deep problems for years with the way archaeology happens. This must be seen as an opportunity to rebuild.

The professional bodies have been making plans and standing ready to move us all forward; amidst the fear-mongering of the popular media, it’s time to hear these voices of positivity. Current Archaeology decided that we need to take an overall view, and that all sectors need to be heard. We asked a tough question, posed above, from many respected colleagues. The response has been overwhelming, and we have included as much as we can of the answers in the ensuing post. One article could never hope to capture the full story: it is a dialogue that will continue in future issues…

Christopher Catling

News Editor, Current Archaeology

Making Archaeology Sexier…

One of the bright spots amidst the gloom is the formation of the Southport Group, formed at the annual conference of the Institute for Archaeologists held in Southport in April 2010, to ‘think creatively and radically about how archaeology is practised in the light of the opportunities presented by PPS5′.

Despite the rather dry name, PPS5 (Planning Policy Statement 5) is a very robust piece of policy which represents a significant opportunity for archaeologists, their clients, and the public to get more from above- and below-ground archaeology. This should herald a new age for archaeological units, promising a new and steady flow of consultancy income, and a much-needed rebalancing of the scales that have been weighted far too long in favour of developers. The Southport Group paints an ambitious vision of a revival of public participation in archaeology, proper publication of results in a wide range of media and — most ambitious of all, ‘a network of staffed resource centres, linked to local authority Historic Environment Records, around which public and professionals alike can coalesce to explore and research the past of their locale’.

Whether this new dawn will break, or whether we will continue to live in a twilight world of inadequately funded archaeology depends on numerous factors, not least the willingness of local planning authorities, who seem to make a point of ignoring central government guidance — to ensure that PPS5 principals are observed. That is why the formation of the Southport Group is so important: we need a ‘ginger group’ to speak for the sector, shine the light on best practice in carrying out the provisions of PPS5, and to name and shame those who ignore the guidance.

We have also got to make it sexier to be pro-heritage. Archaeology needs the same kind of mass public support as organic food and farmer’s markets. If ballet, opera, and even that most difficult of cultural phenomena, conceptual art, can be popular, surely we can be too. Neil MacGregor and his team at the British Museum are making museums sexy with his History of the World in 100 Objects, but we archaeologists are still largely invisible in society, somewhere down with Morris dancers as figures of fun, and certainly not likely to be featured as fascinating people in a lifestyle magazine.

For this to change, we have got to develop new skills as facilitators, advocates and communicators. We need to be more creative and entrepreneurial — more like artists, novelists, and musicians, who work hard at winning fans and building a mass audience for their work. We need to take the results of our work to literary festivals, art galleries, and village halls — colonise new spaces that are not associated with archaeology — and mount installations that challenge and stimulate, rather than sticking with safe and hackneyed museum displays.

In sum, we need local and national government to create a benign policy environment, and to give us the resources to enable us to protect and learn from the historic environment. But, we cannot expect them to do that unless we work really hard in return and give society back something that enriches people’s lives and turns them into advocates on our behalf. Otherwise, a temporary budgetary setback could turn into a permanent downgrading of archaeology in everybody’s priorities.

Mike Heyworth

Director, the Council for British Archaeology

Stay Positive and Look to the Future  (as well as the past)

The Lord Chancellor (The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP) recently stated that ‘We recognise the valuable contribution that archaeologists make to the study of human history’. Unfortunately that recognition has not prevented a combination of factors, linked with the current economic climate, giving real cause for concern for the future of archaeology across the UK.

Despite the gloomy picture, if we look to the future, we can point to some real positives for archaeology and the heritage sector, including: increased funding for the Heritage Lottery Fund; public awareness and membership of key organisations such as English Heritage, the National Trust, and the Council for British Archaeology (CBA) continues to grow; the value of heritage to our vital tourist economy and to regeneration is recognised; enormous growth has been seen in recent years of community and local archaeology (CBA research shows over 2,000 groups with as many as 200,000 individuals); the Coalition government’s focus on localism strengthens the value of a local sense of place and people’s passion for their heritage; the Prime Minister’s idea of the Big Society — that we are all entrusted with the care of what matters in society and the environment — is one that we wholeheartedly embrace in archaeology, and have long worked with; for the first time this year, there is a cross-Governmental vision for the historic environment in England, which the new Government has endorsed in principle; and finally, we have a new policy statement for planning and the historic environment in England, with an exceptionally forward-looking objective for archaeology.

The CBA’s new strategy, launched in the House of Lords in November, is all about ‘Making Archaeology Matter’. What matters now, more than ever, is that we engage people to safeguard the archaeological interest in their locality. The CBA sees archaeological stewardship and active participation at the heart of what we do: in education and research, with young people, in community archaeology, and in all our advocacy work — whether that is safeguarding historic buildings, reforming the Treasure Act, campaigning to protect the rural heritage or deriving maximum public value from development-led archaeology.

The entire archaeological sector needs to work together, with new and innovative collaborations, creating stronger future partnerships, to support even greater public involvement and action. The archaeological discipline of the future is a strong, appropriately rewarded and highly-skilled profession that works closely with an active community and voluntary sector. The CBA is ready to play a leading role: we look forward to working with a wide range of partners, and our expanding membership, to ensure that the archaeological heritage of the UK is safeguarded and appreciated in the future.

Peter Hinton

Chief Executive, the Institute for Archaeologists

Prioritise, and Professionalise

I feel most strongly that the main danger lies in the potential cuts to local government. It is the local government that runs the Historic Environment Records, and deals with the 95% of our historic environment that falls outside the responsibilities of English Heritage and Historic Scotland (in Northern Ireland the Environment Agency manages planning, and in Wales the Cadw-backed Archaeological Trusts advise). Look at the economic arguments. Every £1 spent in local government archaeology nets about £50. Compare that multiplier of 50 with the mere 1.6 or 1.7 brought in by investing in heritage visitor attractions. The latter is valuable and necessary; but at times like these, do we want public funds to support the teashop trade around the heritage honey-pots, or to protect and understand the locally-valued history of ordinary streets and villages? If bodies like English Heritage consider questions like that, then — cruelly cut though they are — they might prioritise support for the local over preserving expertise in the centre.

Right now, we have the chance of a lifetime. If we can protect local government heritage expertise, there is hope not just of survival but of amazing advances. England’s new planning policy, PPS5, states that expert investigation and public understanding of the historic environment are key to the planning process. The policy (especially if adopted elsewhere in the UK) has the potential to sweep away the spent concept of preservation by record, which, at its worst, encouraged poor quality, research-free accumulation of data in industrial sheds. Using the research-led, public benefit ethos of PPS5, archaeologists across the sector (curatorial, commercial, museums, universities) are coming together to propose new ways of collaborative working to deliver real public benefit.

We have an opportunity — and need — for an upsurge of professionalism, committed to public benefit rather than personal advantage, to demonstrating skills and expertise, and to an ethical code of work that requires being overseen by one’s peers. With support, everyone (paid or unpaid) can work to professional standards. PPS5 now obliges local authorities to require professionalism, which will remove the threat of undermining market forces. The IfA is preparing to revise and extend its existing standards and guidance, to relieve the burden of policing archaeology on local authorities so that they can concentrate on the all-important role of identifying which parts of our threatened heritage need to be studied. We will work in partnership with our colleagues to provide the leadership necessary to improve the calibre and value of archaeology — for the greater reward of the public, the developers who fund our work, and archaeologists themselves.

Andrew Fitzpatrick

Head of Communications, Wessex Archaeology

‘Dear Chief Secretary, I’m afraid there is no money’

Perhaps the biggest effects on development-led archaeology will result from the likely reductions in the services of development control archaeologists. Developers will be required to provide heritage statements and proposals that Local Planning Authorities will review, rather than preparing themselves. This will benefit consultants, whose numbers can be anticipated to increase.

The number of organisations offering fieldwork services also seems likely to increase. Archaeology is an unregulated profession in England, Scotland, and Wales; this presents the danger that smaller and cheaper companies — who can provide a basic service — will undercut the more established practices. The ‘New Jerusalem’ that Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5) offered may now seem to be on an even more distant horizon.

It is important to continue working towards achieving the sector’s strategic goals, including getting those elements of the Heritage Bill that were not included in PPS5 onto the Statute Book for England and Wales. In particular, the requirement for local authorities to maintain Historic Environment Records is central to ensuring that heritage issues are addressed in the planning process.

Another key goal is for professional practice to become a regulated profession. In the short-term, Local Planning Authorities could easily extend the use of existing accreditations, such as the Institute for Archaeologists Registered Organisation scheme. Achieving these goals would help support the main driver of archaeology in the United Kingdom, which is development-led archaeology. This would, in turn, support the roles and funding of museums, the national heritage agencies, and universities.

Professor Timothy Darvill

Bournemouth University

All Things Must Pass

Our current harsh economic circumstances coincide with fundamental changes to the very nature and character of society, and the way we do things. Perversely, perhaps, one of the big lessons from archaeology is that the human species is incredibly adaptive; adaptation is what is needed for our discipline, and those who practice it. New approaches provide new opportunities.

In the university sector, it is restructuring of the financial models that holds out hope for the future. For more than a decade, the unit of resource for teaching undergraduate students has been steadily declining, while participation rates have risen. Now it is understood that the level of funding will be maintained by transferring a greater proportion of the cost onto the student. So, in a subject such as archaeology, the costs of teaching home and EU students is spread about 50:50 between the state (grants to universities) and the students (fees); in future, more or less 100% of the cost will fall to the student through deferred fees recovered through payments later in life. The ‘market’ that will be created is likely to lead to the closure of some existing departments, more if the government lifts the cap on fees, and more still if the cap is removed on the number of students an individual university can recruit. There is an expectation that in future there will be fewer departments, but the likelihood is that before long they will also be stronger and more financially secure. Much will depend on maintaining a relationship with a viable profession.

Research funding is changing too, and that, in turn, will influence the shape and form of the projects undertaken. In the UK over the next few years, there will be a general reduction in the amount of money available for research, and therefore fewer projects. But international funding for research has increased in recent years. The promotion of agendas such as well-being, sustainability, and economic prosperity, will no doubt push projects in new directions. Pulling the other way are increasing pressures for widening participation and community involvement played out through localizing agendas.

Assuming that the principle of adaptivity again comes into play, then, as the going gets tough, the tough will get going to pursue new and exciting opportunities.

Lord Rupert Redesdale

Secretary, All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group

Who is Archaeology Being Done For?

The cuts announced in the spending review will hit archaeological services disproportionately hard. The reason is quite clear: archaeology, for the most part, is not a statutory obligation of Local Government. When massive cuts are planned, elected councillors will have to make the difficult choices over which services they attempt to protect and which will be hit. These decisions are not easy. I spoke to one council leader who is a passionate advocate of archaeology who said to me; ‘Which should I keep; the care home manager or the archaeologist?’

It has often been the case that the All Party Parliamentary Archaeology Group has been derided for failing to force the Government into properly funding archaeology. As secretary of the group, we have had some notable successes: defending the Portable Antiquities Scheme, changing the laws on treasure, and attempting to introduce a coroner for treasure, which is still a hard fought debate. The reality is that archaeology is not at the top of the political agenda, and this is the real issue when it comes to funding or forcing political change. As a community, we have failed to get our message across. Indeed, the move to a professional archaeological service in this country has often excluded the general public from the archaeological process. Therefore, the very people who should be fighting on our behalf, writing letters and campaigning, are not doing so. The real question  should be: who is archaeology being done for?

There is still enormous interest in archaeology, as is shown by the large numbers of students who have taken archaeology degrees over the last two decades. However, there are few jobs in archaeology and much of the archaeological work undertaken is in the realm of the developers. There has been a major failure in making local people aware of what has been learnt from the thousands of digs that have been undertaken, and how it could enrich their sense of place in the local community: the real crux of why archaeology is being hit so hard. Local people have been disenfranchised by a profession that should be based on disseminating local information. The tens of millions of pounds that has been spent on archaeology in London alone, which has generated vast reams of grey literature (which almost no one has read), is a massive failure that lies squarely with the archaeological community.

The present cuts, whilst devastating in their impact, could give the impetus for the industry to change direction. What is the purpose of archaeology, if not to excite and promote wonder at the rich and varied landscape in which we live? We cannot rely on academic theses to be the only product, if we want local communities to devote scarce resources to preserving our heritage.

Jim Mower

Development Producer, Time Team

A Media Perspective

Even Time Team is not immune to the winds of financial change. As programme makers, we are facing tough challenges as a direct consequence of a marked downturn in the television industry. The resulting and inevitable budget cuts mean that Time Team itself (as a fairly expensive factual programme) will have less funding for aspects of practice such as sample analysis, experimental archaeology, or excavation work on sites which are too far from our base of production.

An immediate impact visible from 2011 will be the necessary reduction in the programme run from the usual 13 programmes featuring actual excavation, to only ten. Less funding means less digging and, in turn, fewer sites that offer the opportunity for exploration through our three day evaluations, or especially the longer documentary format, which often focuses on an existing research excavation. These constraints will force us, as programme makers, to be more creative (and economic) in storytelling techniques, and to think about ways to reinvigorate the format to keep it relevant. Current discussions surround the desire to cover in more detail remote surveying technology, laboratory-based analytical techniques and conservation practices.

Faith shown in the format, and its subject, by the broadcaster is good news for archaeology, which has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently on television. Time Team itself has at least two more guaranteed years on our screens. The continuation of the programme means that opportunities still exist for archaeologists to engage with a production team, able to offer a multifaceted resource for sites that may have no other means of being investigated. Closer ties are being sought with heritage agencies throughout the UK — which can only be a positive development in the relationship between heritage and the media.

Neil Faulkner

Research Fellow, University of Bristol, and Contributing Editor, Current Archaeology

Man the barricades

Archaeology already operates on a shoestring. If resources are cut, it can only get worse. There is nothing positive about the cuts. We should fight every one. The students have shown the way.

On 10 November, 50,000 students joined a militant demonstration against the cuts in Central London. Hundreds of lecturers backed them. I was one of them. This, I hope, is just the beginning. We need a wave of demonstrations, occupations, and strikes.

Archaeologists are not on their own. The Coalition Government is threatening the biggest cuts since the 1920s. The effect will be to drive us into a depression and to destroy the welfare state. They are doing this because of the cost of bailing out the rich, the banks, and the system. On behalf of the millionaires they represent, they have launched a class war on ordinary working people and the poor.

This is the essential starting-point. If you start by thinking only as an archaeologist, you are sunk. The message from the political elite and their media echo-chambers is that the issue is not whether to cut, but what to cut. They want to divide us among ourselves. Do we spend on education, health, or benefits? On sport, art, or archaeology?

We should reject this choice. We should reject the logic of the cuts. Banks and speculators do not create wealth. Work creates wealth. That is why the great liberal economist John Maynard Keynes said that anything we can do, we can fund. If you spend on public services, you create jobs, increase demand, and boost the economy. Debts can then be paid back from increased revenues. If you do the opposite, you enter an economic death-spiral. This is what is now happening in Greece and Ireland, and where Cameron and Clegg are leading us.

But stopping the cuts will not be easy. The historical stakes are very high. The Con-Dems want to take us back to a 19th century world without welfare. This, they believe, is the price of shoring up their system. For them, it is the City or the NHS. We are going to have to build a united mass movement of resistance, and mount an all-out campaign of strikes, demonstrations, and direct action. As they try and implement the cuts, we are going to have to make Britain ungovernable. It is them or us: either we force a political alternative based on investment, growth, and a new economy, or see the jobs, wages, pensions, benefits, and public services of ordinary working people devastated on a scale not seen since the Second World War.

What should archaeologists do about the cuts? They should join Archaeologists Against the Cuts (on Facebook) and the Coalition of Resistance. And then get active.

All of us, as archaeologists, are students of history. Right now, if we do not want to become its victims, we are going to have to get out and fight to create a different history from the one planned by our rulers.

Clive Waddington

Managing Director, Archaeological Research Services Ltd

Consolidate, and Communicate

A consolidation of the commercial profession is taking place, and this is probably a good thing, though the parallel growth in ‘one-man bands’, which has been damaging in the short term, is likely to be only temporary as many go out of business. One of the problems facing commercial archaeology is that we have a slightly perverse situation where public sector, private sector, and third sector organisations are competing against each other for the same contracts. This is not healthy, and neither is it a level playing field.

As local authorities, universities, and charities look to remove liabilities from their balance sheets there is likely to be a cull, and/or hiving off, of several such units. The undercutting and low pricing that has been damaging the commercial sector will eventually come to an end, as units use up their cash reserve and credit becomes harder to come by. This self-inflicted wound will eventually run its course, and prices will eventually recover as more of the failing units fold. I sense a growing demand for professionalism from developers, but also from the younger generation of archaeologists who are keen on partnership and getting past adversarial positions. This will favour those organisations that are run along professional lines, and it is a trend currently being given more momentum by the IfA and the Federation of Archaeological Managers and Employers.

There will be pressure on Historic Environment Records and the delivery of development control services. This will enforce a streamlining of services, and may also mean the levying of higher fees for use of HERs. It will also reduce the time available for local authorities to launch their own initiatives and provide outreach services. This presents an opportunity to other organisations with the drive and commitment to engage with local communities and the voluntary/amateur sector to do new things. It is also likely that fees will be introduced for the deposition of archives in the regional collections museum. In theory the various new, and higher, fees will be paid for by the developer. But ‘the developer’ is an endangered species, and one that is not only unwilling, but in many cases unable, to bear these growing costs. Greater dialogue will be necessary between archaeologists, planners, and developers to identify reasonable and targeted solutions to historic environment impacts, in alignment with PPS5. This new reality could yet provide better, targeted, and more meaningful outcomes in which real advances in knowledge occur, the public is better informed and less money is spent.

Archaeology has always been a very fragmented profession, and I believe the current challenges pose the best chance yet for some genuine partnership working. The organisations and individuals that are best placed are those who are prepared to adapt, professionalise themselves, identify new markets, work with others, and become more relevant to the public they are privileged to serve (in way or another). Archaeology is incredibly popular at the moment, and building on the public goodwill and interest that exists should give us all reason to be hopeful. We can all be sure that we will be in a different world in 12 months time as the heritage sector contracts and, in some quarters, is restructured. There will be fewer of us, and for those that are left there will be greater pressure on us to be more outward-looking and deliver outcomes that directly benefit the public.


Current Archaeology would like to thank the contributors who generously gave their time to consider and respond to our question, setting a fine example of the collaborative spirit and professionalism so important for archaeology in the years to come. A special thanks to the amateur sector, from which the responses were so varied and numerous that we could not possibly do them justice in this article.

See Part II of this article for Editor-in-chief Andrew Selkirk’s take on the cuts, and opinions from the world of amateur archaeology.

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