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BRITARCH  February 2000

BRITARCH February 2000

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Subject:

Re: Contractors, curators, specialists etc

From:

Vince Russett <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Vince Russett <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 29 Feb 2000 03:29:38 -0500

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Vince here (from the heart):

Few people seem to wish to speak up on behalf of the curators in this
discussion, so here goes. This is a difficult business. As a curator in a
very hard-pressed authority,
with little in the way of resources and that little diminishing, there is
constant pressure downwards on the quality of the briefs and the work that
I
am able to put into them. The briefs produced tend to be pro-formas,
altered
for the circumstances of the specific application, and are constantly
evolving to take account of new ideas and new wheezes that certain units
and
developers have found to evade their responsibilities. In my experience,
most developers are helpful, co-operative, and understand quickly the
necessity for the archaeological works I request, and having had experience
of such work elsewhere, just get on and employ a contractor to carry out
the
works. However, the ones that don't (the bolshie buggers who will spend a
huge amount of time which I don't have in meetings, site meetings,
negotiation and so on, to save a minute amount of money on their
archaeological programme) are a real nightmare. People are aware that PPG16
is only guidance, and does not have the force of statute: the authority can
only usually refuse to determine an application, and then, of course, an
applicant can go to an appeal against non-determination within a specified
period. Appeals and Inquiries are the bane of every curator: they need long
periods of preparation, are long, usually tedious and prevent any other
work
being done for the time being.

Fortunately, I don't have to deal with tendering: we leave that to the
commercial relationship between the client and their archaeological
contractor. I am, however, expected to 'evaluate, monitor and maintain
standards of archaeological work' within North Somerset (to quote from my
job spec.) - but that expects me to 'maintain' the SMR as well! 

There is also little scope for training in new techniques and ideas,
meaning
that my project briefs rapidly become dated if I am not prepared to spend a
considerable amount of my own time in acquiring that information and
training.

As far as contractors go, in most cases, my experience is that (with one or
two exceptions!), they are comprised of dedicated individuals who are keen
to ensure that the archaeological issues of a site are properly addressed,
although many of them seem to have cash flow problems (like many small
businesses). Clearly, they are not keen to make this known (for obvious
reasons), but it must make their life much more difficult. Where a unit is
determined to be difficult (I have been waiting for a report on one site
watching brief for five years, for example), there is no way of enforcing
the production of a report and its deposition in the SMR once a development
or project is over. Needless to say, this particular unit is no longer
featured on my Councils lists of contractors.

The latest developers game in town is to demand an Inquiry as soon as it is
feasible, because the developers community know that our staff are
over-stretched and unable to cope with the demands of their day-to-day
work.
Fortunately, I'm lucky in that archaeology can normally be dealt with
before
matters come to Inquiry - which is just as well, as when there is only one
archaeologist in an authority, spending up to ten days on
preparing for, and going to, an Inquiry, simply means an extra ten days on
my work back-log when I get back. It doesn't particularly bother me, but
several of my colleagues are on long-term sick leave from stress at having
to deal with these sorts of impossible situations.

Now don't get me wrong: I know that compared to most of the archaeological
community, I probably have better working conditions and pay. I believe
this is more than justified if you take into acount the difficulties
involved, and the constant battles with political and
managerial problems in the authority.  

The lack of resources at curatorial level in less-favoured authorities
('cos there are some that clearly are favoured!) is a self-sustaining
problem: lack of resources to poor results to even less resources etc. Now
there's just Best Value, Heritage Review, Regional Cultural Strategy,
regional planning guidance, structure plan, local plan, office moves,
recording performance indicators, group meetings, team meetings, committee
reports: one day I might even get to do some archaeology :-(



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