Friday, 16 March 2007

Archaeology and slavery

As anyone who has picked up a newspaper in the last couple of months will be aware that 2007 is the 200th anniversary of Parliament’s abolition of the slave trade. As such I though it might be useful to flag up an interesting paper by Dan Hicks (University of Bristol) explores the relationship between ethnicity and slavery in post-medieval archaeology.

Olympics overspend hits HLF

I’m not a great sports fan. The nearest I get to active participation is the occasional length of the pool and a beer in front of the rugby. However, when I heard that London had won the Olympics bid in 2005 I can’t deny that like many others I was pleased.

Since, then though, my feelings about the Olympics has become less and less enthusiastic in almost exact proportion to the project overspend. Certainly, the Olympics will help regenerate a deprived area of east London, and may well inspire a generation of dumpy English people (myself included) to put on an ill-fitting tracksuit and jog round the block for a bit. But at what price?

The most recent budget projection for the games is now a wopping £9.3 billion – this is FOUR TIMES the projected cost in 2005 when we won the games. This is not a slight overspend, this smack of at the very best incompetence and at the worst dishonesty when setting out the finances to the public and the IOC. Just think, if the costs have risen that much in 2 years, what will the final spending be by 2012.

Does this matter? Well, yes it does. This extra money has to be found somewhere, and one of the kittys from which the money is being directed is the Lottery Fund, which is being hit to the tune of a cool £675 million. This adds to the money from the fund which had already been promised to fund the games.

Obviously my main interest is in how this will effect the Heritage Lottery Fund. According to a press release from the HLF it's going to have £90 million less thanks to the Olympic Games debacle. £90 million is a lot of money, but what does this translate to in practical spending on our heritage. This would pay for four year’s spend on smaller community and voluntary sector grants and the funding entire stream aimed at involving young people (around 6000 projects). Alternatively it could pay for the planned HLF spend on churches and historic town centres from Gateshead to Great Yarmouth (around 1400 schemes) for four years. The HLF is currently the biggest source of funds for the historic and natural environment, and cultural heritage, far outweighing the amount spent by government. This slashing of HLF funds comes after four years of de facto spending cuts for English Heritage. There appears to be no real interest within the government about the adequate funding for heritage in the UK. The good intentions laid out in the recent White Paper will come to naught without supply of adequate resources.

Monday, 12 March 2007

Heritage in the 21st Century: White Paper

The government has just published Heritage in the 21st Century, its White Paper on the future of the protection of archaeological and historic sites in England and Wales. It outlines its proposals for the way in which they hope to change the system which designates particular monuments or structures as worthy of protection. Currently, important buildings are protected by “Listing”- with Grade I Listed Buildings being the most important and Grade II being of lesser, but still significance, import. However, archaeological monuments, such as earthworks are protected by being made Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMS). Under the new proposals it is suggested that rather than having a separate system for buildings and monuments that they are brought together under the same system.

Other important proposals in the White Paper include the welcome suggestion that Sites & Monuments Records/ Historic Environment Records are made statutory, and that all county councils or local authorities should have access to one. It is also suggested that Class Consent (general standing consent given to carry out certain activities on SAMs) for ploughing should be removed. Until now, the subsurface areas of many protected ancient monuments have been annually damaged by continued ploughing, which often badly disturbs archaeological deposits. This would be ended under the White Paper, instead farmers would be encouraged to come to management agreements with English Heritage to protect the sites, potentially through the existing DEFRA Environmental Stewardship Schemes.

The White Paper is currently out for consultation- some bodies such as the The Archaeoligcal Forum have already responded. What do you think of these proposals?