Records management and your legal obligations

Imagine you’re a bibliophylakes (records manager) in Roman Egypt. Every day you walk in to work at the demosia bibliotheke (records office) and records are piling in from all corners of the province. Records are collated into lists, the lists go out for exetasis (scrutinisation), and the Empire keeps ticking over; the accountability of the state is facilitated by and based in that office. How is the duty of records management any different today? (Your next of kin or offspring may be glad to hear that the job’s no longer hereditary, though.)

It’s certainly true that the theory hasn’t changed much. Even today, the Lord Chancellor’s code of practice on records management tells us that ‘as a general principle, records should be kept for as long as they are needed by the authority’. Surely similar rules existed 2,000 years ago, otherwise we wouldn’t know all that we know about them. Today, however, the disposal of records can be the bane of a records manager’s life, as they’re slowly buried beneath mountains of paper and the costs of storing these piles mounts too.

Developing an effective records retention schedule can mean the difference between a costly penalty fare and a legislatively compliant council. Local authorities can be fined up to £500,000 by the Information Commissioner’s Office for breaches of the Data Protection Act, and careful adherence to the terms of the Freedom of Information Act is required in order to avoid its enforcement powers. As well as being charged with managing all records in accordance with national legislation, councils and fire authorities must publish their records policy and keep in line with their own rules.

LG Inform Plus provides a complete set of Retention Schedule Guidelines to subscribing organisations enabling you to tailor its content to your authority. Help is also at hand via a free workshop on 10 July, run in association with Kent County Council, to help make compliance easier. This event is free but is only open to councillors and officers from English local authorities and fire and rescue services. For more information, visit the event’s page and register your interest before it's fully booked.

posted by esd support on 19th May 2014

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