Friday, November 13, 2009

Fewer, Bigger, Better

User groups are lobbying Plymouth City Council for a pledge to safeguard Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. A consortium led by David Holman, chairman of the National Federation of Family History Societies, Dr. Tod Gray, chairman of the Friends of Devon’s Archives and Maureen Selley, chairman of Devon Family History Society argues in a recent press release that the future of the record office and its collections is at risk through years of neglect by the council, with the disaggregation of collections looking possible.

Vivien Pengelly

At a public meeting, the leader of the Plymouth City Council Vivien Pengelly stated that a replacement building or History Centre was the second priority of the council, after a so-called Life Centre.

SQA examined the record office’s score in the 2008 self-assessment exercise carried out by the National Archives. The scores (row 84) are highly creditable, except for buildings, security and environment which score 37% (*). The other scores are governance and resources 59.5 (**), documentation of collections 67.5 (***), access 51.5 (**), preservation and conservation 60% (**) and overall 52.5 (**)

In terms of its status for holding Public Records, the record office is not recognised as an Approved Repository by the National Archives under the Public Records Act 1958 but instead has Place of Deposit status for local classes of Public Records. These constitute only a minority of the record office’s collections and include such records of local branches of central government as magistrates’ court records. The council’s own records together with deposited and donated unofficial, parish, business and charity collections, etc., are not necessarily affected as they are not Public Records but withdrawal of Place of Deposit status in 2013 as reported would entail loss of prestige for the city council such that it would be hard for it to justify continuing the service at all, thus in fact endangering all other collections.

We asked outspoken Ellison Millinocket, SQA’s chief spokesman on conservation and security, based in nearby Taunton, Somerset, to assess the situation.

It’s typical really, the authority has the makings of being a responsible parent authority capable of running a full spec BS5454 record office. It is clear they have benefited from good staff who have not lost the opportunity to advance the service as far as they can within their governance limitations. It comes down to under-investment in the premises in this case. If the council can grasp the nettle, by achieving the same standards in buildings as in archival professionalism, they could end up with a high calibre record office. However, even high professional standards are threatened in future if the proposed service name comes about, “History Centre”. This is yet another instance of blurring archives by changing an easily recognised service name like Record Office. Perhaps too there will be a blurring of the role of chief archivist. Will there even be a qualified, professional archivist in charge?

Next we asked Benedict Crumplethorne, principal spokesman for SQA, to put developments in the wider context.

Reading the consortium’s press release and the local newspaper articles, the whole issue might seem to be a storm in a tea cup, especially as the press garble the National Archives’ official line. However, there are considerable forces at work which are not even hinted at by the press and consortium.

Firstly, we should look at the National Archives (TNA)’s consultation on a revised government policy on archives, entitled Archives for the 21st. Century. This envisages “fewer, bigger, better” local government record offices thus implying the closure of record offices and the creation of regional offices. It is therefore quite plausible that TNA is using Approval and Place of Deposit status as the catalyst for part of this process, a process by which some observers are anticipating regional record offices in place of county record offices. It will therefore be entirely down to the people of Plymouth and West Devon to campaign for the survival of their own local office. In doing so, they will be making a stand for the status quo nationally. SQA has been vocal for several years in alerting users to the impending closure of record offices and the disaggregation of collections, which now looks like it’s beginning. It is possible their collections could be relocated to the regional capital at Taunton, Somerset.

It is rather interesting that TNA is reportedly willing to take back the local classes of Public Records, because previous off the record comments by TNA senior staff have warned that in such circumstances, Public Records would be burned rather than taken back. This is quite an important point upon which the consortium quite apart form Plymouth City Council should obtain definite clarification.

I am very interested that Plymouth and West Devon Record Office is the first office to fall victim to this tortuous process but not surprised. You see, it was in Plymouth City Council that the threat of Common Purpose first became public, as revealed by the investigations of a retired naval officer and local businessman, Brian Gerrish, whose online documentary videos you will find both fascinating and alarming, if you have the time. So it seems the New World Order-Communitarian-Common Purpose-Fabian agenda against archives as documentary evidence of the making of our Common Law and democratic society is finally coming to fruit, along with other plans at the national level, as reported in our previous blogs about TNA and the National Archives of Ireland.

One final point. I notice that Councillor Glenn Jordan, the Plymouth City Council cabinet member for culture, leisure and sport has described the collections as a 'sub-regional' asset, but one for which Plymouth was forced to bear the entire cost. Perhaps I should explain this regional terminology for the benefit of readers not familiar with EU structures. Under EU arrangements, the nation states will be disbanded, to be replaced by regions controlled direct from Brussels. Plymouth is in the EU South West Region of the UK. The regions break down into sub regions and sub sub regions. A sub region is a group of counties usually, while sub sub regions are unitary authorities, into which all areas throughout the UK are gradually and furtively being divided. Plymouth is a unitary authority and therefore a sub sub region. When Cllr. Jordan describes the collections as having sub regional status, he presumably means they are a significant research asset in the context of Plymouth and West Devon and Administrative Devon and possibly as far afield as Cornwall and Somerset. One assumes that when Plymouth and West Devon became unitary, those lobbying for unitary status lobbied also for a separate local archive service rather than a continuation of Devon branch status. If they did, they must assume full responsibility for maintaining their archive service.

We thanked Ellison and Benedict for their contributions.

Further reading

Museums, Libraries and archives press release

Archives for the 21st. Century (courtesy MLA)

This is Exeter 28 November 2008

This is Plymouth 12 January 2009

CPExposed offering videos on CP

Stop Common Purpose

Brian Gerrish, courtesy YouTube

Shoot-out over Cornish pasties

Devon Record Office in bed with Global Warmists

Nuts 2 us All

At the funeral of Jean Monnet in 1979, one of the founding fathers of the EU, Edmond Rothschild was quoted as saying "The Europe of Jean Monnet is a Europe in which there would no longer be any states but only federated regions. We shall no longer say that we are French, German or British but we shall say 'I am a European and a Bavarian or I am a European and a Scotsman'.


Post a Comment

<< Home

. .