Archives and local government

I was delighted to host the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (cCLOA) Executive meeting at The National Archives last September. It was the third time we’ve welcomed cCLOA, and we always have thoroughly engaging conversations about archives and local government working better together.

Local government is critical to us: they form the backbone of the national network of archives. County record offices and other archive services funded through local government hold a large percentage of the country’s archive collections; and make them accessible to their communities, enriched by the local knowledge and expertise of the archive staff and armies of volunteers.

We’re dedicated to providing a programme of support, advice and training, and to growing our relationships with each archive service. Over recent years, we have focused on local government transformation, as we’re keen to work closely with local government to develop effective archive services that deliver their councils’ priorities. This includes ‘spinning out’ support, fundraising and evidence gathering, and investing in building regional partnerships with shared strategic plans and joint development aims.

At the meeting in September, we shared our new guidance on commercial opportunities for archives. The guidance highlights how collections, expertise and spaces can be used to generate income, and was in effect commissioned by cCLOA, as the suggestion emerged during a previous visit to Kew. The guidance distils advice from The National Archives’ commercial team, as we have developed an approach which, over the last couple of decades, helps generate a significant contribution to our budget. Our experience has at times been hard won, so we are keen to share lessons learned with other archives. The guidance was also informed by research into good practice across the sector, and at September’s meeting we were joined by Victoria Bryant from The Hive in Worcester. Victoria outlined her innovative approach to remodelling her service’s financial base in order to maximise income generation opportunities and operate with a reduced core budget.

The 20-year rule and places of deposit

As Keeper of The National Archives, I’m responsible under the Public Records Act for public records across the country. A significant number of these are looked after by archives outside The National Archives – in what we call places of deposit or PODs – the majority of which are funded by local government. The records deposited in PODs are those created locally – including prisons, courts, hospitals and magistrates, so they form a large part of the history of many individuals and communities. They also underline local government’s critical role in enabling democracy and transparency, as the PODs ensure that these records are open to scrutiny and are available to investigations, for example the Saville and Hillsborough inquiries.

The introduction of the 20-year rule in 2010 accelerated the transfer of public records to PODs. They now transfer records 20 years after their creation, rather than the previous 30 years. The shift is being introduced gradually during a ten-year transition period. The changes mean that during the next decade, local archives will begin to see an increased number of public records come through their doors.

To assist archive services in managing this increased activity, £6.6 million of New Burdens funding from central government has been made available to these archive services across the transition period. Over 40 archive services have already benefitted from New Burdens payments totalling £660,000 last year, depending on the volume of eligible public records they formally accessioned during 2015.

A number of those archives have already put this funding towards the creation of new roles in cataloguing and digital preservation – to build both digital and physical storage capacity, and purchasing files and boxes to preserve new public record collections. Although this funding is targeted at public records, and adhering to the 20-year rule, many of these activities are also helping to build service capacity in general.

You can find out more about the 20-year rule programme and New Burdens funding on our website.

Jeff James, Chief Executive and Keeper, The National Archives

@UkNatArchives, @jeffddjames

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