The National Archives proposes changes to opening hours and other cost savings

Staff and users at The National Archives have now been informed what TNA is proposing to meet the challenges of reducing the operating costs of £42 million by about 10% (£4.2m.) Jeff James, Director of Operations and Services has outlined why TNA is having to make cuts, what the cuts will be and what impact they will have on staff and readers. Cuts won’t be across the board but will be implemented, we are told, strategically. Staff costs comprise about half of TNA’s operating costs. Public Services employs about 400 of the 660 staff and TNA is looking to lose about 60 places from Public Services, in some instances by not filling about 30 current vacant positions and looking at redundancy packages for about another 35. Public Services will have to contribute some £900K of the £4.2 millions savings. Some staff will have to be what is termed “displaced”, i.e. moved internally within TNA or given the opportunity to work elsewhere in the Civil Service. Many staff will be expected to reapply for jobs although there will be fewer places. Expertise and knowledge accumulated in various departments are clearly at risk. Archives and Records Knowledge (ARK) is expected to lose 12 out of its 102 posts. Staff reductions and streamlining services are intended to save about £1/2m. Other back office duties, its information and government policy role and the advisory and executive functions of the National Archives are also expected to contribute to savings.
TNA is looking to cut the number of days the reading rooms are open. It is proposed to reduce the opening days to Tuesday to Saturday only. Not only will this reduce staff requirements but shift patterns will be altered to use resources differently. It is proposed, for example, that expert specialist staff will not be available on the late night openings between 5-7pm but will be redirected to the busier periods between 11am and 3pm.
TNA is having to make sure all its activities are managed efficiently Some of its commercial activities are profitable, such as the income from the licences to digitise the 1911 census. However publishing books apparently makes little money as does the limited research service. TNA is also proposing streamlining its copying services including withdrawal of the Digital Express and the estimating services and the introduction of a new online copying request service.

Reaction at the first open meeting was most divided about the proposals to charge for the use of the public car park at Kew. Some vehemently against and others feeling it was better to charge for this rather than subsidise it out of operating income.

While not contributing greatly to the costs reductions per see, the removal of selected large microfilm and fiche records series from the reading rooms now they are digitised will enable space to be freed up as film and fiche cabinets are removed and older equipment will no longer have to be maintained and replaced. There is however much criticism of this policy as the online surrogates aren’t absolutely satisfactory and films will still be available to order through the catalogue.

The closure of the Family Record Centre and addition of the GRO fiche indexes for births, marriages and deaths to 2007 have undoubtedly placed a burden on TNA staff who are helping many readers use records that are not actually its responsibility. TNA is proposing that it no longer provides free access to the GRO fiche indexes and will not take the updated indexes in future.

Future investment will continue TNA’s drive online and it intends to continue to develop the online catalogue and digitisation projects. However IT savings are forecast to be considerable and one cynically wonders whether any IT project has actually saved a government department money? TNA wants to encourage most people to use its records remotely and not come to Kew unless it is necessary, but acknowledges there will never be enough money to scan every document it holds. Family historians have probably seen the best of investment made so far and any future digitisation will always be aimed at who are most likely to pay. However the building itself is getting old and is costly to run. We cannot rule out the unthinkable that The National Archives may well have to consider relocating

It is intended that all changes are implemented by March 2010. The proposals are currently being negotiated with Staff and Unions, there will be the “consultation period” for comments up to about September when notice will be given of the changes. The opening hours will probably change in January and the films and fiche withdrawn by the end of March 2010.
An outline of the proposed cuts and changes at TNA will be found posted on its website
www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/changes by the end of this week. The PowerPoint presentation and questions will be put up in full, Anyone wishing to comment or make suggestions can email changes@nationalarchives.gov.uk
Else Churchill, Genealogist

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