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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

Part of a response to an FOI I submitted has rather surprised me. If my understanding of it is right, it means that records of key decisions are destroyed after six years. Or, am I being melodramatic or simply a bit thick?

"The retention period is six years for all records relating to the management of parking permit schemes. The same six-year retention applies for Committee and Cabinet reports and minutes of meetings. This reflects the general time within which, under the Limitation Act 1980, a civil action could be brought before the courts. I apologise this was not stated clearly at the time." 

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The council’s document retention procedure does set a six year limit on holding personal data

https://www.minutes.haringey.gov.uk/documents/s100667/Records%20Ret...

but doesn’t mention council decisions.  Infact you can access some of them electronically back to 2002.  I was under the impression that council decisions were held in perpetuity.  I certainly remember wading through minutes of committees back to the formation of the council I worked for on occasions 

https://www.minutes.haringey.gov.uk/ieDocHome.aspx?XXR=0&Year=2...

I’ve no idea if regulations have changed since then but with the advent of cheaper electronic storage I would have imagined that holding decisions was easier than back in the days of paper.

You may want to query it with the Information Commissioner’s Office

https://ico.org.uk

This is almost certainly wrong. It would mean future generations would have less information about Haringey than about local parishes in Victorian or even Elizabethan times. LAs are supposed to adopt, as good practice, a Retention policy such as this
https://www.leicester.gov.uk/media/180081/retention-schedule-2018.pdf

where there is an officcer who decides which records must be either kept permanently, or passed to the local Record Offices. Perhaps one of our local councillors could advise, or enquire?

It is not one individual officer who "decides".  The retention periods are set in accordance with legislative requirements. Only information which is considered to be of significant historical interest is retained "for future generations" and is generally transferred to the National Archives not held by the Council themselves.

Thanks fellas. It does sound bonkers. Surely it can't be right.

This is often fairly standard policy to avoid having to search through decades of documents for FOI, etc. In addition, where there is any personal data then there has to be a limit on how long it is reasonable to keep it and the view may be that it is just easier to destroy everything than try and separate the two.
No this is absolutely correct. It is not just personal data to which a local authority's Retention Schedule applies, and I should know, I wrote Islington Council's. The retention schedule outlines each of the separate categories of information which is held, and what legislation determines the time for which it is kept. The Limitation Act (essentially the time within which someone is able to sue you for something) is the usually the standard at 6 years. Other records have differing retention periods, the longest of which are pension records (100+ years) and Adoption records (75 years). Other categories (emails etc) can be as little as a year.

Thanks Antoinette and Andrew. 

I can see that some records have a short life and don't need to be retained. But I can't believe that a council can bin records of key decisions reached at cabinet meetings after just SIX YEARS! Surely that can't be right.

Searching online I came across a few detailed guidelines made available online by some Councils. All I can find online for Haringey in this respect is a general policy (attached below), but this doesn't detail items retained and the retention period. The policy refers to LGA Records Retention Guidance, but I can't find a downloadable copy that's not behind an LGA paywall. 

What I've seen online from other Councils though, suggests that quite a lot is kept for more than six years. For example, Tower Hamlets Retention Manual stipulates the following, citing "common practice" as the reason. This makes sense. 

(LHLA = Local History Library and Archives)

I Just can't believe that records of cabinet meetings and reports are binned after six years.  In Kazakhstan and the like, maybe, but in Western Europe? It can't be true. 

Attachments:

I'm happy to let you have a copy of Islington's Retention Schedule (if you need a 182 page insomnia cure) but it is a large file.  Pretty much all Local Authority schedules are based on the Local Government Association template and will contain approximately the same stuff.  Leicester Councils (that Straw Cat provided the link to above) is, and so will ours and Haringey's

I submitted a request on 6 February to Haringey Council for information about this matter.  I queried the council officer's statement above as it seems to be implying that committee and cabinet reports and minutes are destroyed after six years.  I asked "What is the Council policy on the destruction or retention of documents as they relate to reports, minutes or policy matters in general."

I received the following reply today.

"We do not have a policy for the retentention of documents as they relate to reports, minutes or policy matters in general. The retention period for Committee and Cabinet reports and minutes of meetings is 6 years.  The 6 year retention is based on the Limitation Act and applies for many of the categories of information we hold. However, different categories have different retention times depending on the regulations and legislation that govern the information and its use.

Our Record of Processing Activities (ROPA) provides useful information about our retention periods. https://www.haringey.gov.uk/contact/information-requests/record-pro... Council meetings are on the Corporate Goverance ROPA line 5.

If you are interested in a particular report, minutes or policy document, you can submit an FOI request for a copy.

Yours sincerely,

Feedback and Information Governance

Shared Service Centre | Central Team

Haringey Council"

Six years is a ridiculously short time.  I find it very hard to believe that any organisation of the size of the council would destroy their records after six years.  

An example of how this might be put into practice.  In December 2013 the council cabinet made decisions about Finsbury Park events policy, so come the end of this year it appears that the council will be looking to destroy the reports which lead to the decision and also the record of what was decided and how the vote went.  Is this really what will happen?

I agree it seems nits. As advised by Michael, I dropped a short note to the ICO. I assume they'll confirm that what Haringey are going is okay, but worth checking. 

I looked into this some years ago over Hornsey Town Hall - I'd have liked to read the 1936 council papers about the HTH procurement construction process but they've all been destroyed due to the cost of storing paper records over time.

I spoke with the curator at Bruce Castle Museum to see if they could put a historical context on the value of papers to future generations - they should surely be in charge of this?

Seems to me that the Council must already hold backup copies of all their 'live' documents - most corporates do. It's just a question of money - the cost of storing even terabytes is tiny, especially if you're already paying for a chunk of space so it's so cheap it's about the will to do it.

This is one of many reasons I think there should be a Haringey.gov.uk user group

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A more immediate issue was the retention of the council video archive - the last council decided to destroy all the vids after one year. I emailed a previous chair of planning suggesting that volunteers would be happy to upload it all to Youtube for free if they can't be bothered but wasn't able to persuade them.

Anyone interested in helping create an archive of links to youtube vids of council proceedings we collectively upload? Ideally try again to persuade the Council themselves to do it? There's rarely more than a few per week so not onerous

Then maybe the next step was an archive of PDFs that are related to the council vids? Individual free accounts at mega.nz are 25GB - one is probably enough, maybe back them up to wikidata?

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