Croydon Council plans to disengage from cultural intervention as part of the next phase of its spending cuts. This includes reducing spending on the Local Archives service to ‘the statutory minimum’.
Some important questions arise:
Apart from continued support for Fairfield Halls, what positive cultural intervention did it undertake in 2012 bearing in mind its shafting of the Warehouse Theatre:
- Is the Council turning its back on supporting the Borough’s local cultural activity and heritage?
- Is it a snub to local people who use the local archives/studies service and help contribute to our understanding of how Croydon developed?
- Will local archives/studies staff cuts result in the loss of valuable knowledge about archive material?
- With the reduction in staffing across all Council services will the loss of institutional memory lead to future bad decision making based on ignorance?
- Does this mean that the Local Studies (as opposed to Archives) service will be closed? Does a reduction mean an end to open access and the introduction of an appointment only system?
- Does it mean remote access with a consequent rise in remote enquiries on the staff who remain?
- Will it reduce accessibility of historic resources which have wider significance than the Borough boundaries?
- What effect will it have on Croydon’s ability to occupy satisfactorily its position among the network of archives on which historic researchers depend?
- To what extent will the future proposed service be capable of meeting The National Archives new archive accreditation framework
- What capacity will there be to continue to collect the records of Croydon Council, the archives of other organisations and individuals and the ongoing collection of local studies materials?
- What are the implications for potential depositors going elsewhere with their collections and existing depositors seeking to withdraw collections already with the archives because of concerns about the security of the service?
- Could Croydon’s reputation be damaged resulting in a possible loss of ability to apply for external funding to bodies like Heritage Lottery Fund?
These are among a series of questions that need to be answered by the Council and justify a Scrutiny and Oversight Committee review of the future of Local Archives and Studies within the wider context of the disengagement from cultural intervention and within the context of the statutory framework and Government guidance on what are called ‘proper arrangements’.
The main legislation governing archives and records are the Local Government (Records) Act 1962 (amended 2003), the Local Government Act 1972. The 1962 Act confers limited discretionary powers for local authorities to provide certain archives services: 'a local authority may do all such things as appear to it necessary or expedient for enabling adequate use to be made of records under its control'. Activities include allowing inspection and copying of records, preparing indexes and guides to them and publishing and exhibiting them, and acquisition of records of local significance over and above their own administrative records, care for them and make them available for study by the public. The 1972 Act requires local authorities to 'make proper arrangements with respect to any documents that belong to or are in the custody of the council of any of their officers'.
Government guidance explains why record keeping is important: ‘Records represent information, one of the most important resources of any organisation. Local authorities should make arrangements for the cost-effective management of these records in the interests of the efficient transaction of their business. Local authorities also need to preserve certain classes of records for the legal protection of their own property or other interests.’
The guidance addresses the management of a local authority's administrative records, whether kept on paper or in electronic form, and proper arrangements for those records which have enduring historical value and which should be kept by an established archive service. The latter include the public records of such bodies as courts, coroners, hospitals and prisons held on behalf of central government; and those given to or purchased by the authority, or deposited with the authority normally on indefinite loan. Records include manuscript, typescript and printed records, photographs, sound recordings, film, videotape, computer disks and records held in electronic form.
The guidance explains that ‘proper arrangements’ cover:
- the preservation of the records, including storage and conservation
- ‘the provision of access, including preparing finding aids and the means for enabling members of the public to consult the records (subject to any restrictions) under supervision.’
- the skilled supervision of their management by an appropriately trained member of staff’.
- the provision of adequate storage for the records in conditions where they will not deteriorate and with protection from unauthorised access.
- the provision for consultation by the authority's staff and, where appropriate, by members of the public.
- the adoption of guidelines for the safekeeping of records retained directly by staff of the authority.
- the adoption of ‘policies to cover the electronic records, integrated with the overall information strategy, and the facilities and procedures to implement those policies through the lifecycle from creation to disposition of the electronic record.’
- provision for preservation and conservation.
- provision of a designated study area for use by the public .
- liaison with schools and other educational bodies so that the educational potential of the archives can be realised.
- outreach activities to the wider public.
Interestingly ‘An authority should consult its archive/records management service before it invests in electronic document management systems’ and adopt a comprehensive information systems strategy, including the avoidance ‘of electronic records becoming inaccessible because they are trapped in obsolete technology.’
Information Management System
If a Council Oversight/Scrutiny Review takes place it should be examining what the benefits of effective information management of its own records are:
- Is time saved because information can be found quickly and easily?
- Is compliance improved by keeping documentation in line with legal and regulatory requirements?
- Is efficiency improved through information being readily accessible?
- Is the quality of information improved, providing staff with access to accurate and reliable records?
- Does it increase the security of confidential information.
- Does it support risk management and business continuity.
- At what level of reduced funding for the archives service will result in increased costs elsewhere in the Council because of inadequate involvement in record management?
More detailed questions that could be asked in an Oversight/Scrutiny Review include:
- What does the Council consider the statutory minimum to be?
- What aspects of the current service are in addition to the statutory minimum?
- Who will have access to the slimmed down service?
- Will it just be for Council officers?
- Will it be for members of the public and if so what will the new opening hours be?
- Will the Council guarantee that archive collection material will not be thrown out?
- Will the Council continue to accept new collections for deposit or on loan?
- Will the Council ensure that new material being created by Council Departments and Committees are archived?
- What resources will be available for cataloguing new deposits?
- How many staff will there be?
- Will staffing be sufficient to avoid periods of closure due to staff (a) holidays, (b) training, (c) sickness; etc?
Let’s hope that the concern about the future of the local archives/studies services is shared by both Tory and Labour Councillors to lead to a consensus on carrying out an Oversight/Scrutiny Committee review.
Further detail about the legislation and guidance can be seen on www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/information-management/legislation/local-government-acts.htm