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Local government

Guidance on 'proper arrangements' for archives

Note: The responsibilities of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) transferred to Communities and Local Government in May 2006. All references to ODPM in the following pages now refer to Communities and Local Government.

1. Introduction

1.1 Section 224 of the Local Government Act 1972 states:

Without prejudice to the powers of the custos rotulorum to give directions as to the documents of any county, a principal council shall make proper arrangements with respect to any documents that belong to or are in the custody of the council or any of their officers.

1.2 The section applies to principal councils as defined in the Act itself, the London Government Act 1963, the Local Government Acts 1985 and 1992 and the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994.

1.3 This note is being issued to provide guidance to local authorities on the implementation of section 224. It represents current best practice in the application of "proper arrangements" and is intended to assist local authorities in achieving cost effective management of their records.

1.4 This note should also be read in the context of new and proposed legislation, such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Government's proposals for Freedom of Information and for a new constitution for every council. It should also be considered as part of the Central Local Information Age Concordat.

1.5 The legislative framework for archive services is outlined in appendix 1.

1.6 Members and officers are reminded that this guidance has no legal status.

2. Definition

2.1 This note uses the term "records" for section 224's '..any documents which belong to or are in the custody of the council or any of their officers'.

2.2 For virtually all principal authorities which run or have run an archives service, or which have succeeded to the powers of an authority which has run such a service, "records" will normally comprise three broad groups:

  • Records created by the authority and its predecessors in the course of its business
  • 'Public records' (for example records of courts, coroners, hospitals and prisons) held on behalf of central government
  • Records given to or purchased by the authority, or deposited with the authority normally on indefinite loan.

2.3 All these groups fall within the section 224 definition and within this note.

2.4 The records created by the authority can be further sub-divided into:

  • Current administrative records and
  • Semi-current administrative records

Principal authorities should make 'proper arrangements' for these records, whether or not they hold the other two types of records defined in 2.2 above and run an archives service.

2.5 The purposes for which current administrative records are held differ from those for which archives are held, although there is overlap and a proportion of the current administrative records will eventually become archives. These records will, therefore, be considered separately in section 4 below.

2.6 The definition in section 224 and in this note applies to all records irrespective of the medium on or in which the information is carried, including but not restricted to manuscript, typescript and printed records, photographs, sound recordings, film, videotape, computer disks and records held in electronic form.

3. Preservation and access

3.1 Proper arrangements should encompass the preservation of the records, including storage and conservation; and 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.

4. Records management: current administrative records of the authority

4.1 This section covers records produced by the authority and in current administrative use. Records retain this currency for very different periods. Records of adoptions, for example, need to be retained for 75 years and throughout that period may be called upon for practical purposes. (In addition many records which have ceased to be regarded as current and which may not have been created by the authority may also be needed for administrative or legal reasons, for example determining the status of a road or footpath.)

4.2 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.

4.3 In an increasingly litigious environment the importance of making and keeping adequate records is proportionately obvious. Cases about children in care and about the quality of education given can only be defended where relevant records can be readily accessed.

4.4 There is legal provision for some classes of these records to be preserved, and public access provided, and this is outlined in Appendix 1. In addition to these practical and legal reasons for the efficient management of an authority's current records is the need for democratic accountability. This underpins some of the legal provisions, but beyond this records relevant to public accountability and decision-making, and to the propriety and adequacy of the execution of their functions by the authority and its officers, need to be preserved and made accessible.

4.5 'Proper arrangements' for the current or recent records of a local authority should involve the skilled supervision of their management by an appropriately trained member of staff. Where the authority also runs an archive service, this record management should be considered as part of or operated in close co-operation with the archive service. A records management service should include the drawing up, in agreement with administrators, of retention schedules for all classes of the authority's records and the systematic disposal of those no longer of administrative use and not deemed to be of historical significance. It should provide for improved speed and efficiency of retrieval of information and the cost-effective use of storage space. Pages from a specimen retention schedule form Appendix 3.

4.6 This aspect is particularly important in the light of the increasing quantity of data held in electronic form, and is covered in more detail in the next section.

4.7 Proper arrangements should also involve the provision of adequate storage for the records in conditions where they will not deteriorate and with protection from unauthorised access. Provision should be made for consultation by the authority's staff and, where appropriate, by members of the public. Guidelines should also be drawn up, and implemented, for the safekeeping of records retained directly by staff of the authority. Records identified by retention schedules as having long-term or vital significance should be treated accordingly during this period.

5. The management of electronic records

5.1 With the widespread use of computer applications variously known as office automation systems, desktop applications and electronic document systems, documents are held in electronic form as word processor texts, spreadsheets, databases and images, and can be as much a part of the records as their paper equivalent.

5.2 Those in charge of providing and preserving information will need to have 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.

5.3 Generally speaking, unless the facilities have had specific records management functionality designed into them, they are not likely to meet the full requirements in this area. Records management for electronic records should incorporate capabilities to maintain the authenticity, integrity, contextual information, audit trail and security of records and to support long term preservation of records. Electronic records management systems will therefore include not only functions necessary for immediate business use but also features supporting longer term perspectives including disposition scheduling, selection of the records for long term preservation and access to those records over the long term.

5.4 All types of document can be designated a record. Once designated as such, the document is no longer used formally by the creator but managed as part of the organisation's corporate information resources. To prevent loss or degradation of this resource, it is crucial that future usage and preservation are taken into account at the earliest possible stage.

5.5 An authority should consult its archive/records management service before it invests in electronic document management systems. These systems should facilitate the efficient retrieval of information for current business needs and should not compromise the permanent preservation of those electronic records that are considered to be of enduring historical value. An authority should seek to adopt a comprehensive information systems strategy, involving the periodic migration of electronic records to new systems in the light of technological developments. Such strategies should help avoid the possibility of electronic records becoming inaccessible because they are trapped in obsolete technology.

6. 'Historical' records (archives)

6.1 These records fall into the three sections outlined in 2.2 above: older, non-current records of the authority; public records; and owned or deposited records of other bodies or individuals. All these can be considered together.

6.2 Principal authorities across the country took up the challenge of providing for the country's archive heritage at local level over the last half century after a series of wide-ranging social and economic changes left it vulnerable. Preservation from permanent loss was and remains the driving consideration. Access has become increasingly significant, realising the potential of the asset held, providing valuable practical and legal information both to the authority and to the public, and enabling research to be carried out in a wide variety of subjects and at many different levels. Increasing use of the material has also been made in education, and this is now being further developed by the inclusion of archive material in the National Grid for Learning and the People's Network.

6.3 Proper arrangements for the historical records of an authority can be made either directly or by arrangement with another authority - for the provision of a joint service or for provision of the service by one authority on behalf of another.

7. Proper arrangements for archives

7.1 Documents setting out standards for aspects of running an archives service are listed in Appendix 2.

7.2 Proper arrangements should start with appropriate storage conditions, which should meet the provisions of British Standard 5454, protecting records against fire, water, atmospheric pollution, rodents and insects and maintaining stable levels of temperature and humidity within the limits set out in the Standard. Storage should be adequate not only to the present size of the collection but also to meet its expansion needs. Appropriate storage conditions should also be provided for archives in non-traditional formats such as film and sound, and for electronic records if these are held. Protection against theft and vandalism should also be provided.

7.3 Provision should be made for the preservation needs of the records, to ensure that they are appropriately packaged, handled with care, and where necessary active conservation or repair work can be carried out. Conservation facilities may be provided either directly in-house within the archive service or by buying in or in co-operation with another service.

7.4 Proper arrangements should include provision for access by the public in a designated study area sufficient to satisfy normal demand, providing for the health and safety of the public and the special needs of disabled readers. The area should be under the constant supervision of a suitably trained member of staff. All records open to inspection by the public should be clearly described in publicly available finding aids; copies of finding aids should be supplied to the National Register of Archives. Finding aids may also be made remotely accessible by electronic means.

7.5 Proper arrangements should include liaison with schools and other educational bodies so that the educational potential of the archives can be realised; and outreach activities to the wider public. Together these will contribute to the Government's life-long learning programme.

7.6 Authorities will need to consider what staffing is required in terms of number, qualifications and experience in order to keep the records safe and make them available for public inspection; to ensure that proper advice is made available to the authority and to other owners of records on their care; to prepare adequate finding aids; and to take necessary practical steps for the preservation and conservation of the records. Staffing should include suitably trained people which may include professionally qualified archivists and records managers, professionally qualified conservators (unless this work is carried out externally - see 7.3 above) and non-professional archives or records assistants. It should also include clerical and support staff.

Appendix 1: Legislative framework

1 A statutory framework for archive care has developed by and large in the wake of activity undertaken by local authorities to preserve and provide for the national archive heritage at local level.

2 The Local Government (Records) Act, 1962, enables all local authorities to promote adequate use of their own records and empowered county and county borough councils ('principal councils') to acquire other records by purchase, gift or deposit. District and borough councils could exercise these powers only under a specific ministerial order.

3 The Public Record Act of 1958 provides for the deposit of any class of public records, at the Lord Chancellor's discretion, in places other than the Public Record Office, provided these places have been appointed as places of deposit by the Lord Chancellor. Appointment depends on the provision of facilities for storage and safe-keeping and for public access as defined in the Act, determined by inspection.

4 Manorial and tithe records are specifically covered by statute; here too local places of deposit are recognised following inspection. The care of parochial records is governed by the Parochial Registers and Records Measure, 1978, amended 1992, stipulating the designation in each diocese of one or more diocesan record office. Almost universally local authority record offices have been appointed to this role.

5 An increasing body of legislation governs access to records, particularly the authority's administrative records. Specific classes of these records must be preserved, and public access provided, under Acts of Parliament and secondary legislation:

  • The Local Government Act, 1972 section 228 provides local electors with the right to see the minutes of a local authority, an abstract of the accounts, and any report by an auditor on these accounts; any order for the payment of money; and any record required to be deposited with a local authority (subject to any statutory provision to the contrary).
  • The Local Government Act, 1974 part 3 establishes the Commission for Local Administration in England to investigate written complaints of injustice arising from maladministration by a local authority, and provides that records relevant to the investigation must be produced.
  • The Data Protection Act, 1984 protects the rights of data subjects to personal privacy while facilitating the free flow of information within the European Union and will be extended by the Data Protection Act, 1998 when it comes into force, notably from covering electronic records only to covering all records structured around the names of individuals.
  • The Local Government (Access to Information) Act, 1985 provides for minutes, agendas, reports and background papers of meetings of principal councils that are open to the public to be available for public inspection. The Government's Freedom of Information white paper Your Right to Know indicates that a far wider statutory right of access to local authority (and other) records will follow.

Appendix 2: Standards

The following documents set out standards for aspects of running an archives service:

1 British Standard 5454 Recommendations for Storage and Exhibition of Archival Documents (British Standards Institution, 1989, under revision)

2 A standard for Record Repositories on constitution and finance, staff, acquisition and access, 2nd edition, 1997 (obtainable free of charge from the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HP)

3 Beyond the PRO: Public Records in Places of Deposit, 1994 (obtainable free of charge from the Liaison Officer, Public Record Office, Kew, Richmond TW9 4DU)

4 Guidance on schemes for the care, preservation and management or records under section 60 of the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994

5 Guidance on the care, preservation and management of records following changes arising from the Local Government Act 1992 (Department of National Heritage, 1995)

Appendix 3: Specimen retention schedule form

 

Page

Record Series

 

Dept. retention

Governing Factors

Action

Notes

 

Supplies (cont)

 

 

 

 

35

Voucher books

Audit

Audit

D

 

35

Equipment records

 

C + 1

 

Sample

 

35

Estimate files

 

C + 6

 

D

 

 

SITES AND BUILDINGS

 

 

 

 

36

Major capital projects files:

'Permanent' files

(Ministry files)

 

General files

 

 

 

 

 

 

T

 

 

 

T + 10

 

P

 

 

 

D

T = date of completion of project. Preserve unless an Annual Programme File exists

T = completion of project. Selected items may however be removed for preservation. If 'Permanent' file does not exist these files should be reviewed

36

Minor capital works files

T + 10

 

D

T = completion of projects.

37

Development or Improvement

Files

T + 10

 

D

T = completion of projects.

Page

Record Series

Dept. retention

Governing Factors

Action

Notes

 

SITES AND BUILDINGS (cont)

 

 

 

 

37

Maintenance files

T + 6

 

D

T = date of final payment following completion.

37

Copy order files (if separate from above)

 

C + 1

 

D

 

37

Site files

 

T + 6

 

D

Closure of school

37

 

 

 

37

 

 

37

Leases (to authority)

 

 

 

Leases (from authority)

 

 

Maintenance contracts & service agreements

T + 12

 

 

 

T + 6

 

 

T + 6

Limitation Act, 1980

(document under seal)

 

 

 

 

 

 

D

 

 

 

D

 

 

D

T = expiry of lease

 

 

 

T = expiry of lease. Leases under seal should be retained for 12 years

T = expiry of contract/agreement

37

Swimming pool files

As for project, development or maintenance files, above

 

 

 

 

 

 

38

Public notice files

C + 1

 

 

P, after weeding

T = completion of projects.

38

Policy files

O.R.

 

R

 

38

Annual programme files

C + 1

 

P

Preservation of these may render it unnecessary to reserve major projects files (above)

For further advice on the management of local authority records and archives you may wish to contact the Secretary, The Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, Quality House, Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HP. Tel: 020 7242 1198
http://www.hmc.gov.uk/home.htm

or

Head of Archives Inspection, Public Records Office, Kew, Richmond, TW9 4DU. Tel: 020 8392 5262
http://www.pro.gov.uk/

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