The requirement to respond quickly to requests for information means that the College needs to ensure that its documents and records are in good order and properly managed.
The Act requires the Lord Chancellor to issue guidance to public authorities on the keeping, management and destruction of records. It follows that the College should comply with this guidance otherwise it may become vulnerable under the Act if it is unable to trace appropriate information.
The Lord Chancellor has issued a code of practice which can be seen at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/foi/reference/imprep/codemanrec.pdf
What is records management?
Records management includes the processes for implementing records retention and disposal, storage and retrieval in accordance with policies and procedures.
Principles of records management
Records are the outputs that record each and every business and administrative transaction of an organisation. They may be created or received. This will include details about students, members of staff and all external contacts, plus things like invoices, strategic plans, policies and so on. Records are an essential resource for the current and future operation of the College. Many records also form the College's collective memory that must be available beyond the memory or working life of any single member of staff.
The principles of good records management for paper or electronic records include:
- Developing filing structures systematically – to control arrangement, content and accessibility
- Arranging individual files in a logical structure and sequence which facilitates use and easy retrieval
- Use of retention schedules to determine how long records should be kept before disposal
- Defining key records for long-term retention
- Providing security and an environment for records appropriate to their importance and sensitivity
- Retaining evidence of records destroyed
Retention of records
The Records Retention Policy sets out the principles and responsibilities relating to records management in Queen Mary. The Records Retention Schedule also forms part of this policy listing how long records should be retained.
Also available is a set of generic procedures.
Summary FAQs about records management
- What is a record?
Records are the outputs (and thus evidence) of each and every business and administrative transaction of an institution and details about its staff, students and external contacts. They may be created by the College or received in to the College. They are the basis on which decisions are made, services provided and policies developed and communicated. Examples are invoices, student files, exam papers, the prospectus etc.
- Who is responsible for keeping records?
Normally the creator of the record will be responsible for its retention. On other occasions it will be clear that another department is responsible, for example where master versions are to be kept and audited centrally such as with financial records and HR files.
- How long do I need to keep information?
A Records Retention Schedule has been created listing all the types of records and their retention periods. The retention period for copies will be much shorter than that for the master version. Information should not be kept “just in case it might be useful one day!” Very few records require permanent retention and their relevance diminishes as time passes.
- What are retention periods?
These are the periods of time, varying from a few months to permanency during which a record has to be maintained by the College. This is usually determined by statute, legal, regulatory or business compliance, or where these do not apply, by a best assessment of the local business need and/or the risks involved in destruction against the costs of retention.
- Do we not have legal obligations to keep everything?
No. There are some statutes which require the College to retain certain types of records for set periods of time. However, most records have a value for a limited period and should be reviewed for disposal after that period. Keeping everything makes it more difficult to find more recent information, wastes space and money and can expose the College to risk.
- Yes, but is it not just easier to keep everything?
Storage, particularly electronic storage, is not as cheap as you may think. In addition, when information has to be located in order, for example, to respond to an FOI request, the more information that has to be looked through the more difficult, time-consuming and expensive it is. Legacy systems can cost a lot to maintain and migrate. Furthermore, keeping information longer than necessary may expose the College to risk.
- What about electronic records?
Records and information in all formats need to be managed in the same way in principle. You may also need to consider the longevity of certain electronic records or media on which these are stored. For example, media can degrade over time but in addition you need to consider the hardware and software required to read the data: do you know anyone who has a computer which can read floppy disks?
- Who owns Queen Mary’s records?
With certain exceptions, anything you produce in the course of your employment at Queen Mary belongs to the College. It is important to assign an owner to records but this should be along the lines of the owner’s post, not the individual’s name.