Saturday, 7 July 2012

Spending reviews and archaeology

My short visit to Rome and its environs coincided with the Italian spending review in our changing financial and economic landscape. At my return it was confirmed that the Italian government will cut 10 % of the state employees and 20 % of managers. This was the talk of the workplace where I visited. The emphasis is on those who will be close to the retirement age, which in Italy depends on the number of years served. Those within two years from retirement will be relieved from their duties.

This will probably have a profound effect on how Italian state will be functioning. Without real changes to the practices it may become difficult to carry out certain duties. Italian bureaucracy is hierarchical and duties are closely defined. If the authority is not there, things may not happen. Often people are really friendly and try to help, but if the person you are dealing with is in a lowlier position, the personnel is unlikely to stretch the rules if there is any possibility of sanctions. Everything official needs an authorisation.

I experienced this once again when I tried to get the final drawings for an article done in an Italian museum where the finds are stored. I had approached the local manager at the museum who has the right to give the finds to the external scholars who have research permits. From this manager I got the name of the new day-to-day custodian who happens to be one of the conservers at the museum. I had phoned the conserver to make sure that he was available on the day I was suggesting an appointment and I sent an e-mail a couple of days later to tell him the box I needed to have in my disposal in order to find the few diagnostic pieces I needed to draw. Then I organized the flights, the transport and the accommodation. The thing I did not do was to call the week before to check that everything was fine since I had another meeting in Rome that required urgent attention.

My transport

When I arrived to the museum outside Rome, I heard that the conserver was ill and the security guards did not know if he would come to work so I waited. I contacted the local manager but he was unaware of my exact arrival date and had arranged four workmen and a digger for some archaeological work for that day. The rules apparently have changed with the appointment of the 'new' local custodian and I learnt that I could not stay alone with the material that was still to be fetched had I been able to stay. The museum director was out of the reach of the mobile network on a field mission so the local manager could not ask for authorisation for any exceptional practices. All this even if I had visited the museum for many times, they knew my finds were from a field survey, the material had been collected by me and my team and people genuinely were contacting and trying to reach different people in order to help. Thus, I will have to rearrange the appointment and, if the conserver will not return soon, I have to arrange everything with the local manager who will be available on certain dates when I will be briefly in Rome again.

The door may be closed more often in the future

In the museum organisations and archaeology the access will be further restricted if 10 – 20 % of the workforce will disappear. Even if the Italians value their monuments, it is likely that the cuts in the culture sector are more likely since they do not necessarily bring in revenue (with the exception of certain large world-famous monuments and museums) and are not as essential as hospitals, schools and local administration. However, if 20 % of managers who have authority over decisions disappear and there will be no creation of new protocols in order to supply authority and flexibility, the future cuts may lead to new inefficiencies since the right authority will not be there. Naturally, the opening hours and such are likely to be altered and subject to diminish. This will effect collections, museums, libraries, archives and probably other parts of administration and planning system as well. The Italian colleagues already often have more in their hands than they can do so the preservation and dissemination of heritage may be more in danger in the future.

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