FUNDING for the Portable Antiquities Scheme is to be cut by 15 per cent in real terms over the next four years, with the biggest impact likely to be on staff costs.
The announcement comes as the British Museum takes over the administration of the PAS from the soon-to-be-disbanded Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The reduction is part of the general round of Government cuts.
The PAS has been lauded by academia and the trade alike as an effective system of protecting finds and ensuring that their context and associated information is not lost or obscured by the finders.
British Museum director Neil McGregor has pledged to protect the effectiveness of the PAS, saying: "Following a tough Spending Review settlement we will wish to maintain the integrity of the Portable Antiquities Scheme as much as we can."
He argued that bringing both PAS and administration of the Treasure Act under the management of the British Museum would "ensure an effective and efficient mechanism for dealing with archaeological finds made by the public".
So what will the cuts mean when they come into effect next April?
With 92 per cent of the funding used to pay staffing costs, cutbacks will inevitably hit this area the most. The Welsh Assembly will have to cover the shortfall in Wales as the PAS contribution for the scheme there is reduced from £59,000 to £6000 in 2012.
Funding to those who employ the 38 Finds Liaison Officers and five National Finds Advisers will be frozen for four years, with a further £40,000 savings each year to be found from non-staff and travel elements of these grants.
The British Museum said it "hoped" that the 33 partners employing these staff would be able to renew the contracts on this basis, but it could prove to be one of the more vulnerable areas.
Culture minister Ed Vaizey has made it clear that reduced funding announced last week would be ring-fenced for the PAS. Meanwhile the official announcement of the changes pledged that the remaining staff – the central unit and the National Finds Advisers – would be unaffected. In a separate agreement, the DCMS has renewed the funding for the Treasure team which is also based in the British Museum.
Other savings will be met by dropping the print version of the Portable Antiquities & Treasure Annual Report. One final combined Portable Antiquities & Treasure Annual Report will be published in spring 2011 and thereafter short Treasure Annual Reports will be printed. Instead, the PAS website, <iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii>www.finds.org.uk will contain new pages giving access to details of all Treasure finds from a particular year.
Mr Vaizey expressed the government's commitment to the PAS, saying: "The Portable Antiquities Scheme has been crucial in ensuring the most important archaeological finds discovered by members of the public are recorded, to advance knowledge and so the past can be enjoyed by all. Under the stewardship of the British Museum, the PAS will remain a central and successful part of British archaeology."
By Ivan Macquisten
The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act explained