Tuesday 13 September 2011

Cornish archive and library cuts

Thanks to David Holman of the Federation of Family History Societies (www.ffhs.org.uk) for this.

The following is a fairly impassioned letter from Terry Knight concerning forthcoming savage cuts by Cornwall Council to Cornwall Record Office at Truro and the Cornish Studies Library. Although about Cornwall, it is fairly symptomatic of what is going on in our almost bankrupt country just now, so well worth reading:

12th September 2011

Dear Friends

In the current economic climate Cornwall Council like most others is required to cut its expenditure. You may not know that, to do so, it plans to cut a further £80,000 from the budget of the Cornwall Record Office at Truro and the Cornish Studies Library at Kresenn Kernow, Redruth. The proposals offer a selection of two options each, the best which the unfortunate staff managing these services 'at the coal face' could devise to try to sustain some semblance of service for the long term in the face of these drastic cuts.

As the first Principal Librarian of the Cornish Studies Library I was blessed with an opportunity to spend my working life doing a little to gather and preserve the printed and published records of our particular history and culture for future generations. At the time I could take some pride in being employed by a local authority which, through a lack of irrelevant, time-wasting, costly and counter-productive central government diktats, using modest local expenditures coupled with an element of trust, gradually enhanced the facilities it could offer to those who had a love for Cornwall's heritage. However, although the protestations of support for heritage and culture from the present Unitary Authority have grown more strident, right now one can only feel shame as a Cornishman that it is jeopardising the very existence of much of what has been achieved by its predecessor authorities. Is this 'our' local authority? I believe that it is time that we who care for our culture and heritage, stated unequivocally that 'enough is enough'.

We are being asked to be complicit in the Council's drive to progressively eliminate the larger part of its heritage and cultural services. Apparently, following a similar 'consultation' last year, in which the views of entire population of Cornwall were sought, it was decided that these elements of what the authority provides were the ones we could most easily live without.

Yes, it was all down to us. I am currently trying to discover how many people actually responded to that earlier 'consultation' or even realised it had happened. [I have a strong suspicion it will be numbered in a few scores rather than tens of thousands, but it is unlikely that the facts will be forthcoming in time to meet the tight deadline for responses to the present 'consultation'.] You may be interested to follow this link to a page titled "Hard choices" and look especially at no. 1 on the hit list.- www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=27868

On the back of the dubious results of the aforementioned survey, a superb team of archaeologists painstakingly assembled over many years, resulting in not only one of the finest such services in Britain (including one of the best databases of historic and archaeological sites and monuments to be found anywhere, and the achievement of World Heritage Site status for much of Cornwall) is being diminished, and a number of the most experienced and loyal-to-Cornwall staff have already left. The annual funding of the Royal Cornwall Museum was also savaged, resulting in extensive job-losses there, and an inevitable loss of expertise from Cornwall. Reductions in staffing numbers have already occurred at the Cornwall Record Office and Kresenn Kernow, disguised to a degree by short-term relief staff contracts. Does all this truly have the support of the people of Cornwall?

The latest 'consultation' seeks to impose further 'efficiencies' upon the Cornwall Record Office (CRO), and the Cornish Studies Library (CSL). When determined, the changes in hours at the CRO will take place in January 2012, but those at the CSL will take effect in October 2011 - i.e. very shortly. In other words, the September 'consultation' process ('tick-box' process?) will doubtless be evaluated thoroughly, considered at length, but nevertheless acted upon immediately.

An 11% reduction of the hours of access hours to Kresenn Kernow has already taken place. The additional currently-proposed reduction amounts to a further 24%. So in total over the last 18 months or so, the hours will have been slashed by almost 33%. It will leave just 31 hours a week in which to use the library.

This is the self-same authority which proudly boasts of making a bid for Cornwall to be the 2013 'UK City of Culture', justifiably highlighting its contemporary creative strengths, but also its heritage of scheduled ancient monuments, listed buildings etc. Unfortunately it neatly sidesteps the matter of Cornwall's historic culture, preserved as an inspiration for its future development at Kresenn Kernow, the Cornwall Record Office and the Royal Cornwall Museum. Apparently the hard documentary evidence and the surviving artefacts of Cornwall's traditional culture are of no significance.

It took 25 years of building the Cornish Studies Library into a notable collection before a regeneration initiative by Kerrier District Council provided the opportunity to establish Kresenn Kernow. It has proved a remarkable success, and it will 'celebrate' its 10th year of existence in October by eliminating one third of its availability to its customers! It is so much simpler and swifter to destroy a facility and the goodwill of customers than to create it, and, on the evidence of what has already occurred and what we are asked to decide now, that is the intention of Cornwall Council.

There is a fundamental difficulty with local government finances inasmuch as funds from one department cannot be shuffled to one more needy. So, the £20,000 salary just found by a clearly well-off section to pay for an officer to protect the Olympic flame on its especially hazardous passage through Cornwall, cannot unfortunately support an existing service with a good track record. £80,000 is pocket-money for the well-funded services to find, but it is a crucial amount for the smaller services.

At the Open Cornish Gorsedd in Helston recently, the Grand Bard spoke in complimentary vein of the recently-aired proposal by Cornwall Council to create a 'National Library of Cornwall'. In the light of this, it seems perverse in the extreme to reduce the service it already has to its bare bones.

Details of the proposed cuts are also available on the Cornwall Centre / Kresenn Kernow website - www.cornwall.gov.uk/CornwallCentre , and the Cornwall Record Office's - www.cornwall.gov.uk/cro . If you wish to simply comment, as I hope you will, you can email the services on cornishstudies.library@cornwall.gov.uk and cro@cornwall.gov.uk respectively. I leave it to you to decide if you simply wish to respond to their choice of how to make the £80,000 cut, or if you feel strongly enough about it to protest about the Council's cavalier attitude to financing its heritage and culture services.

Thanking you for reading this lengthy epistle!

Yours sincerely

Terry Knight / Tresulwythen



  1. Very worrying news - thanks for posting this Chris. As you say, it's an extremely alarming example of what is happening around the country. Why is our heritage always seen as the easy option for cuts?

  2. Indeed. I don't think the politicians have cottoned on to the growth of interest in personal heritage.