The Government of Jersey has been criticised by an independent panel for failing to properly protect records and for causing ‘unacceptable’ delays to access to public documents.
In the foreword to Jersey Archive’s annual report for 2018, which was presented to the States Assembly yesterday (4th), Jeremy Harris, Chairperson of the Records Advisory Panel, says a lack of funding from the Government is preventing the Archive from carrying out its functions properly, which in turn is having an impact on Islanders’ access to records.
Mr Harris says: “The service is significantly under-resourced and therefore unable to carry out its functions properly as required under the Public Records Law…by 2025, it will take nearly 100 years with the current level of resources to clear the backlog in cataloguing across all collections, and over 100 years to clear the backlog in conservation of items in unusable and poor condition.”
The Records Advisory Panel reviews and advises Jersey Heritage and Government departments on their roles with respect to public records. In his foreword, Mr Harris praises the quality and extent of the work carried out by the Archive’s team, which, he says, continually impresses the Panel.
However, Mr Harris also notes that if the funding situation does not change, there will be serious repercussions: “A significant proportion of the records held by the Jersey Archive will remain unavailable for public consultation for several generations to come, and in the Panel’s view this is unacceptable.”
Mr Harris also says the Panel were “dismayed” to hear about the inadvertent destruction by the Planning and Environment Department of over 4,000 files on historic buildings in Jersey, which resulted in the loss of material of historic value. “This is the most serious incident involving the loss of public records since the Public Records Law came into force in 2003.”
Acknowledging that a government-wide records management programme has recently been initiated, Mr Harris nevertheless says: “Higher priority needs to be given to improving the standards of records management in government departments if further losses of public records are to be avoided…major improvements are needed.”
However, if the funding situation is not addressed, one of the implications will be that the Archive is unable to assist the Government with its review of records management, says Linda Romeril, Jersey Heritage’s Archives and Collections Director.
Mrs Romeril compiled the annual report and she also highlights the lack of resources and the impact this is having on the Archive’s service and work. “The Archive service continues to run with limited staffing resources and at the same time manages and provides access to significantly more records each year....this is not sustainable,” she says.
Despite this, Mrs Romeril says that she and her staff are resolved to continue to provide a high quality archive service to the people of Jersey. As part of this, during 2018 significant progress was made in the safeguarding of both physical and digital archives due to the start of the new £3.5 million extension at Jersey Archive and the development of a digital preservation strategy and system for electronic records.
Her report highlights the importance of archives as evidence of Jersey’s unique cultural identity, telling the stories of the Island’s past, recording the present and providing direction for the future, as well as playing a key role in the local community. In 2018, over 2,000 people engaged with the Archive through talks, tours and reminiscence sessions; nearly 3,000 visited the Archive in person; and tens of thousands of people visited the online archive catalogue to find out more about their Jersey connections.
The ‘2018 Annual Report on the Work of Jersey Heritage and the Archivist Under the Public Records (Jersey) Law, 2002’ report can be found here.