National Archives savings plan

The National Archives has announced a series of proposed changes to the way it works and to the services and facilities which it provides to users. It wants to make savings of £4.2 million by the end of March 2010, which it plans to achieve in the following ways:

  • Changing public service provision at Kew, focusing on the quantity of provision rather than sacrificing the quality.
  • Reducing management costs by having fewer management roles. This will be achieved by changing the structure of some teams and by reducing the number of stand-alone teams.
  • Making trading services, such as publishing, profitable.
  • Doing things differently and at lower cost, including changes in managing facilities, such as mowing the lawn less often and not cleaning the windows as frequently; shifting recruitment to be predominantly online and reviewing areas where National Archives currently spend a lot of money (including databases, IT infrastructure and public library subsidies).

So, what will all this mean for those who visit The National Archives in Kew?

  • Five-day opening by closing the reading rooms on Mondays.
  • Reduction in overall staff numbers 35, mainly in administration and management roles, but increasing the number of senior records expert posts, specialists in specific fields.
  • An increase the number of expert staff available for consultation during the busiest times.
  • Provision of advice and expertise where and when it is needed, for example not providing expert staff between 17:00 and 19:00, when there is minimal demand.
  • Introduction of charges to use the public car park.
  • The removal of selected large microfilm and microfiches records series from the reading rooms where there is a suitable online equivalent.
  • Streamlining the online copying services with the introduction of a new online request service.

For those who use online services, things look a lot better:

  • The National Archives will continue developing its online catalogue to make it easier for everyone to use, access and find out more about NA records.
  • The most popular records will be digitised, so they can be made available to researchers online through the Documents Online service and through commercial licensing partnerships.
  • There will be online help to assist everyone with their research, including animated guides and research signposts for specific topics.

The National Archives is putting a lot of effort into its public consultation exercise and is actively encouraging users to attend its Open User Forum meetings. The next two are due to take place on 20 August and 17 September 2009 in the Talks Room on the first floor at Kew. They start at 12.30pm, with lunch being served from 12.15pm, and usually finish by 1.45pm. The National Archive's Chief Executive, Natalie Ceeney, will attend the meeting on 20 August. She has been leading on these proposals, working with the Executive Team, and is heavily involved in all discussions with staff and Trade Unions. She would welcome the opportunity to listen to any concerns and discuss any issues and/or suggestions that customers might have.

What none of the information provided addresses is the question of what happens in the future as more records are added to the collections. Will records and documents be culled from the present collections as competition for storage space increases? If so, how will such decisions be made and who will make them? No doubt these are questions which The National Archives is already considering.

Whatever one thinks about the reasons for 'the cuts' — for that is what they are — archive services do not stand still and how they are paid for and provided needs to be reviewed from time to time. When this happens, there will be winners and losers. Public money should always be spent wisely and well and, in fairness to The National Archives, it seems determined to do just that. One can only hope that local authorities managing local archives services around the country will be as open and honest with their users and the general public as The National Archives appears to be.

You can find more detailed information about the proposed changes at

30 July 2009

A correction

I received the following note from Susan Edwards, Glamorgan Archivist/Archifydd Morgannwg:

'I read your recent article on the TNA self-assessment results in Local History Magazine and had been intending to write to you. A glance at a map would have shown you that Gwent, in Cwmbran, is a long way from being "next to" Gwynedd, in Caernarfon, although it is reasonably close to Glamorgan, in Cardiff. While we are not yet a 4 star service we did score 71% on conservation, and were 3 or 4 star in every aspect of the service with the exception of accommodation. Hence, of course, the new build. I was impressed that you had picked up on the vital importance of buildings and conservation to the long term preservation of archives. Archivists struggle to pull the spotlight away from access to the things which underpin it and it is good to have that reinforced in a popular magazine like Local History'.

At the time my mind thought one thing and my hands typed another. It was Glamorgan I had intended to refer to, which does adjoin Gwent, and not Gwynedd. I would like thank Ms Edwards for her correction and kind words. Elsewhere on the site you can see a report and picture of the new Glamorgan Record Office which will open in 2010.

Robert Howard

19 August 2009

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