Questions and answers
Questions and answers on proposed changes to public services.
Q: Is it only public services that are affected by the changes?
A: We looked at every area of The National Archives to see where there are things we can do more effectively, or if there are things we can put on hold or stop doing altogether.
We have not ended up proposing changes to every area, because we have been focused in where we have proposed savings, rather than just trying to cut 10% off everything.
Most of the changes we have proposed are about improving our internal efficiency, and will have no impact on customers.
Nevertheless, the Operations and Services directorate (which includes public services) is the biggest directorate at The National Archives, so it is inevitably going to have to make savings. But proportionally, other directorates are in fact making larger savings from their budgets.
Q: Won't these changes adversely affect your customers?
A: Some of the proposed changes will have an impact on our on site customers - primarily the proposed changes to opening hours in the reading rooms. However, we are consulting with the public and other stakeholders to find ways to implement these savings with the least possible impact. Further, we will continue to offer the same high-quality service all day every day, whether it be on site or online. It is also important to remember that these proposals are being made in order to protect services for customers in the long term. Closing one extra day a week will enable us to keep a high quality service running on the days that we are open.
Q: When will the final decisions be announced?
A: The major proposals were announced to staff on Monday 29 June. The public and our external stakeholders were informed on 1 July.
There will then be a consultation process when we will talk to staff, Trade Unions and the public about the proposals. We anticipate that the consultation process will continue for no less than 30 days, with most changes being implemented before 31 March 2010. Some changes, typically where we need to liaise with external parties, may take longer to implement.
Q: How can the public get involved, express their views?
A: We welcome our customers' views and there are a number of ways the public can get involved:-
• Join our public meetings on 11 July at Kew
• Attend the user forums on 16 July, 20 August and 17 September at Kew
• email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q: Are these really 'proposals' or decisions? If proposals, how can we influence the eventual decisions?
A: The amount of money that we need to save to remain financially viable is a fact, not a proposal, but while we cannot reduce the amount of savings that we need to make, we will consult on the detail of them. We welcome constructive feedback and ideas before we make our final decisions
Opening times/Reader advice/document services
Q: Why have you chosen to close the public reading rooms on Monday?
A: We cannot afford to stay open six days a week within our existing budget and still maintain high quality services. Closing an extra day will significantly reduce our ongoing running costs, allowing us to continue to offer an excellent on site service when we are open, as well as continue to offer and develop our online service (which accounts for over 90% of our customer usage). Monday is already one of our quieter days so will have a lower impact on the public than closing on any other days.
Q: Could you extend opening hours on the other days?
A: We already provide two late nights each week. To extend opening hours would mean we would be unable to deliver the cost savings we require.
Q: Why will there be no expert advice available during late night openings?
A: There is already low demand for expert advice in the evenings, so any staff reductions will have little impact on customers. Customers will still be able to carry out their research, including reading and copying documents on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. This allows us to focus our expert advice when it is most needed, typically between 11:00 and 15:00 when we are at our busiest.
Q: Do these changes mean there will be fewer staff to advise the public?
A: Customers will continue to receive the same level and quality of service that they currently receive. However, we will adjust our staffing levels to meet demand.
Q: Do these changes mean The National Archives will lose expertise?
A: No. We place a huge value on our experts. While we are proposing to reorganise our public services team, we will continue to deliver the same level and quality of services our visitors currently receive. In addition we will continue to develop our online services which are accessible to a wider audience than those visiting our site at Kew.
Q: What changes are you making to document services?
A: Research has informed us that customers are confused by the range of document copying services we offer. Replacing the Digital Express copying and the estimating service with an online copying request service will allow us to provide a more efficient and straightforward service for customers.
Q: Why are you introducing car parking charges for the public when last year you said they would be free?
A: The world has changed a significant amount since the chief executive made this commitment and unfortunately, with the economic situation as it is, we need to ensure that the car park covers its cost. We can no longer afford to subsidise those people driving to and parking at Kew. Equally, we need to operate in line with the government's 'green agenda' which is actively discouraging the use of cars when public transport is a viable alternative.
There is no on site parking for visitors to the British Library's St Pancras site, nor the National Archives of Scotland, while our neighbour Kew Gardens charges a £6 flat rate.
Q: What are the car parking charges going to be and when are they going to be introduced?
A: This has not been decided, and we will be consulting with our customers.
Q: In correspondence with a regular reader, Alistair Darling stated that there would be free access to national museums and galleries (including The National Archives) until 2010. Surely this includes free parking?
A: The National Archives' Minister, Michael Wills MP, and Secretary of State, Jack Straw MP, have both been fully informed about the proposals and are supportive of them. The majority of national museums and galleries do not provide free parking for visitors.
Q: Will there be a charge for disabled parking?
A: Dedicated disabled parking spaces will continue to be available free of charge for holders of 'Blue Badges'.
Q: Will you provide a shuttle bus service for those who are not disabled but find it difficult to walk from Kew Gardens Station?
A: We have investigated this option but it would be prohibitively expensive. For those people unable to walk from Kew Gardens, there are alternatives, such as a bus service from Richmond Station which stops next to our site.
Q: Members of staff use the public car park as well, will they be charged as well?
A: Anybody using the public car park will have to pay the parking charges.
Q: Will members of staff have to pay for parking?
A: We have no plans to introduce charging for use of the staff car park although in line with the government's green agenda we are actively looking at ways to encourage staff not to drive to work and we are, in parallel with the introduction of car parking charges to the public car park, looking at how we manage and allocate parking in the staff car park.
Q: Is The National Archives talking to Transport for London (TfL) about improving public transport links?
A: We are in regular discussions with TfL as one of their key stakeholders. However, TfL has its own priorities and budgetary considerations. The National Archives is already reasonably well served by public transport, with three bus routes, London Overground and the Tube within a relatively short distance.
Q: Does this mean there will be no further investment in the facilities at Kew?
A: We have made significant investment over the past couple of years improving the reading rooms and other public facilities at Kew. We are continuing to maintain the Kew facilities to ensure that it remains a great site for both customer service and for our staff.
The web is now the first choice for the majority of researchers, providing access 24 hours a day, all year round. Our online services account for 90% of customer usage, with over 170 documents now downloaded for every one original document seen by a visitor to our reading rooms. More of our funding is going, every year, to supporting the development of our website.
We will continue to invest in improving online access to our records and expertise, in line with one of our strategic priorities - to drive the shift to online services.
Q: What are you doing to improve online access?
A: There are a number of projects currently under way which will continue, these include:
• Developing our online catalogue to make it easier for everyone to use, access and find out more about the records we hold.
• Continuing to digitise our most popular records and make them available to researchers online through our own DocumentsOnline service and through commercial licensing partnerships.
• Creating online help and expertise tools to assist everyone with their research, including animated guides and research signposts for specific topics.
Q: It is well known that launch of the 1911 census was successful: did this not generate significant income for The National Archives? How was this money invested and has it impacted positively on the need to find savings?
A: We did get some royalties from the 1911 census. However, this funding is non-recurrent (i.e. one off, and cannot be used to support ongoing running of the organisation). This 1911 income has been reinvested on digitisation projects and on other capital projects, which support our online services .
Q: Will you be refurbishing the Map and Large Document Reading Room?
A: No. We cannot afford to do this at the moment, and we do not feel that it is appropriate to seek external funding for it while we are considering the long-term future of the Kew site.
Q: It has been said that you plan to reduce your research and collection function and your externally-funded research projects. Does this mean that you do not value academic research in the same way?
A: Absolutely not. Serving the needs of the academic sector and supporting academic research is still central to what we do and we have spoken to the Institute Of Historical Research and the Royal Historical Society about the proposals. The changes proposed are not about reducing our focus on research, but they are about targeting our activity more clearly and reducing the management overheads required to deliver it.
The collections development and research coordination work carried out in a dedicated department will continue, but rather than being conducted in a dedicated department it will be embedded across the organisation.
Q: What impact will this have on the education services, will you still run sessions in Kew and will you still run videoconferences?
A: We are not changing any element of our education service. We will continue to invest in improving our online educational services including podcasts, videoconferencing and our 'virtual classroom' website to make our learning sessions accessible to history students of all ages around the world.
Q: What are you doing to reduce your energy costs?/ What are you doing to meet the government's green agenda?
A: We are implementing wide-ranging plans to improve energy usage at The National Archives. This aims to reduce electricity and gas consumption, saving us money while going towards reducing the 'carbon footprint' of The National Archives.
Q: Will the bookshop opening hours be changing?
A: We are proposing that the bookshop opening hours will changing to 9:00 to 17:00, Tuesday to Saturday, in line with the changes to our other services.
Q: I hear that you are proposing to reduce the publishing arm of the organisation, will this have an impact on the bookshop?
A: The bookshop sells a wide range of books and other items, not just books published by The National Archives. There will be minimal impact on the bookshop as a result of the changes to our in-house publishing operation. We are proposing that the bookshop will close on Mondays, in line with the proposed reduced opening hours of the reading rooms.
Removal of microfilms
Q: Why are you removing microfilms from open access in the reading rooms?
A: We are removing those films from open access where there is a suitable online equivalent. In most cases, the online version provides a level of indexing and searching not possible with microfilm. We also believe that we could make better use of the space occupied by the microfilms, in line with the views of visitors. For those readers who need to access The National Archives' material on the microfilm, we will still retain it, and it can be ordered if necessary.
Q: How does this save money?
A: Saving money is not the primary motive behind removing the microfilms, but as we were planning this at the same time as the other proposals, it seemed sensible to consult on them all together. However, microfilm equipment costs significant money to service and maintain and as microfilm becomes increasingly obsolete, the costs of maintaining the equipment go up. We will have sufficient microfilm readers to meet customer demand but having fewer will allow us to save money while at the same time supporting our shift to online services.
Q: What if the online version does not meet my needs?
A: We still have a microfilm copy that can be provided on demand, should this be necessary.
Q: Will you remove the census street indexes as well?
A: No. These will remain in the Open Reading Room.
Q: The online BMD indexes only go up to 2005. What if I need to check a later entry?
A: The General Register Office is responsible for providing access to BMD indexes. There are other locations across the country that have these fiche. We do not believe that providing access to these fiche is a significant benefit to researchers at The National Archives.
Q: The online index to WO 364 does not include regiment. This makes it more difficult to identify the record required.
A: At our request, Ancestry are re-indexing WO 364 to include regiment. We will not remove the microfilms from open access in the reading room until this has been completed.
Q: What will you do with the space you save by removing microfilm services?
A: We believe that restoring a separate quiet study area for visitors would be popular with many visitors, but we will be happy to consider other suggestions.
Q: Will you be increasing the number of computer terminals in order to accommodate visitors displaced from microfilm readers?
A: We are confident that we have enough computer terminals to accommodate any increase in demand. However, we will monitor the situation and take appropriate action if and when necessary.
Impact on staff
Q: Can you explain what is happening to staff?
A: Staff costs amount to approximately half of The National Archives' budget, so in order to make savings we do need to have fewer staff. Under these proposals, a number of current vacancies across the organisation will not be filled. Further, we will be opening a voluntary redundancy exercise to all staff at The National Archives, whereby staff who want to can apply for voluntary redundancy, and may be offered it if they meet criteria agreed with the Trade Unions. In line with civil service protocols, we are committed to avoiding compulsory redundancies.
A number of staff across the organisation have therefore been 'displaced'. This means that, under these proposals, their role is no longer required at The National Archives, but they are still employed by us. Staff who are in this situation will take part in a process whereby they are supported to find a new role with The National Archives or the wider civil service, or they may be offered voluntary redundancy if that is what they want. This process is currently being agreed with the Trade Unions.
Q: What is the overall staff reduction going to be?
A: We have an overall headcount of about 660, and of this, 30 currently vacant posts will remain unfilled. We are proposing to lose around another 35 members of staff through voluntary redundancy, although the proposals in some areas have yet to be finalised.
Q: What is the view of the Trade Union side?
A: Management met with the Trade Union side on the morning of 29 June and meetings will continue throughout the consultation period.
Q: Will the Chief Executive attend any forums to answer visitors' questions?
A: Yes. Natalie Ceeney, the chief executive, will attend a future user forum. She has been leading on these proposals, working with the executive team, and is heavily involved in all discussions with staff and Trade Unions and would welcome the opportunity to listen to any concerns and discuss any issues and/or suggestions that customers might have.
Q: Will these proposals result in a loss of expertise at The National Archives?
A: No. Under these proposals, the Advice and Records Knowledge department (which includes reader advisers and records specialists) is being reorganised to reduce management overheads and improve service delivery. This means that some roles within the department are changing significantly, and new ones are being created. Because of this a number of staff, including records specialists, have been displaced from their current jobs, and will be placed into new roles within the reorganised department or elsewhere within The National Archives. It is possible that some of these staff may find new jobs within the wider civil service, or that they may apply for voluntary redundancy, but we are committed to avoiding compulsory redundancy and we recognise the need to retain expert knowledge and experience.
Q: Instead of making savings, could income be generated through commercial activities?
A: The National Archives does run a number of commercial services, but in fact some of these run at a loss. So our priority is to bring all our commercial services into profitability, and our Director of Customer and Business Development is working to do this. We have looked into charging for some of our services, but in most cases, the administrative cost of charging for individual services would be greater than the revenue it would generate. The income we receive from our online digitisation partnership projects (such as 1911 census) is already accounted for as part of our overall annual budget.
Q: Will cataloguing be stopped?
A: No. Under these proposals, public-facing staff could actually benefit from more time for cataloguing, because if they are working on Monday they will not be on duty in the reading rooms and will therefore be able to focus their attention on other activities, such as cataloguing. However, we do want future cataloguing activities to be more closely linked to our online activities.
Q: Will there be any further savings?
A: We are making these savings in order to deal with our current financial situation. If our budget is reduced in the future, then we will clearly have to deal with that. However, there is no way of predicting if or when that will happen; it is beyond our control.
Q: Are you likely to start charging for online services at The National Archives?
A: There are no plans to charge for using online services at Kew. We have a statutory obligation to provide free access to the records.
Q: How will The National Archives deal with the reduction in the '30 year rule'?
A: Because of the priorities of the government, and the legislative changes involved, we do not anticipate that this reduction will happen immediately and will be phased over many years. A team of staff here is already working on our plans around this. We would not anticipate any extra funding from government to deal with it.
Q: There will always be a need for some visitors, in particular academic historians, to access original records. Can you guarantee that access will continue?
A: Yes. It would cost tens of billions of pounds to digitise all our records so this is clearly not viable. We fully appreciate the needs of some researchers to access original records which are unlikely to be digitised in the foreseeable future, and we will continue to provide this access.
Q: Will the reading rooms stay at Kew?
A: The Kew building and plant equipment are now over 30 years old, and in order to meet government regulations on CO2 emissions they would need millions of pounds of investment. Because of this, we are currently reviewing the long-term future of the Kew site, but absolutely no decisions have been made yet.
Q: Will these savings affect the MH12 (Poor Law records) project?
A: The funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund was unsuccessful, so we are funding the MH12 project in-house. Our current plan is to undertake around 40% of our original plan and we will then review it.