to Isle of Wight History Centre Archive of Monthly News Items
As previously featured in the History Centre

January 2020


January 2020
THE RECORD OFFICE MERRY-GO-ROUND
In December 2018 we covered the council's project to check the feasibility of the Waltzing Waters building at Westridge as an answer to their need to relocate the county record office. They have now formally established it will be the location for which expenditure will be included in the next budget. This would be an important development but for the fact it is unlikely to happen.
   The National Archives (TNA) first declared the council's record storage facilities as inadequate in 1993, subsequently stating that, if no proper premises were established, they would have to remove a section of the records to their own storage facilities. In the following 25 years the council has come up with a number of proposals for new premises, none of which have come to fruition.
  Each time the council raise a proposal, TNA give them a few years to implement it. When that time is up and nothing has materialised, the council come up with a new proposal and are given another few years to implement that, and so on. Most of the proposals have found their way into the budget, only to be ignored. It is a practice that repeatedly postpones any TNA action.
  Westridge is the most recent proposal and calls for a capital expenditure of 4m, half of which is anticipated as coming from a grant. The early proposals included a new museum facility but that is no longer the case. Unfortunately any survey of Islanders' priorities in council expenditure puts heritage way down the list. Moreover, the number of people using the record office is extremely limited. It is unlikely the council will opt to spend 2m on such a measure in the midst of an austerity crisis that is causing genuine hardship. A reduction of just 0.6m over the previous failed proposal hardly seems enough to now make it viable.
  Equally unlikely is the prospect of getting some sort of grant for the 2m balance. A heritage grant for that amount will expect a substantial new benefit to the community. The Westridge plan is just a relocation of existing storage and administration facilities. There is no significant community benefit. The record office attracts a limited clientele who make their visit for specific research. There is no reason to assume numbers will increase through a change in location, particularly as the location will be less central than it is today. The benefit of retaining a particular section of the records may only impact on a small proportion of users. Even if some minor exhibition facilities were included, a limited attraction at a remote location would generate little interest.
  TNA's role in events is also worthy of examination. When they first threatened to remove records they mistakenly assumed the council would swiftly react and they would never have to implement their threat. Taking in of some of the records would be as disadvantageous to TNA as it would for the council. In spite of decades without progress, TNA have never made any serious arrangements for the records to be transferred.
  The council and TNA have been continuing a process that creates the impression they were seeking a solution, while quietly accepting that they were not going to do anything. It was recently suggested to TNA that they were compliant in such an arrangement and it is significant they never took the opportunity to deny it.
  Although the practice is rather pointless, it could be argued that there are no serious drawbacks, other than a lack of transparency. In reality, the problem with the Island's storage facilities is not as severe as is sometimes implied. TNA's objections are largely theoretical. There has been no evidence of a deterioration of Island records and no damage has been recorded. Doubtless there will have to be solution at some point but it seems unlikely there will be an innovation that faces financial reality until the council officers develop a conscience about misleading the public.