Thursday, 29 January 2015

National Records of Scotland estates review and future direction of travel

I've had some fairly major news today from Anne Slater, Head of Public Services, at the National Records of Scotland (, following up on my posts of November 14th 2014 about the current Estates Review being undertaken by the body (see and It concerns the strategic direction of the future for the NRS, and how it intends to develop over the next few years, and I'm grateful to Anne for permission to share the news - the easiest way to do so is to simply quote the relevant section from her email:

"Hi Chris,

I hope you are well and things are good with you. Picking up on last year’s conversations about NRS public services, on site record availability and our on-going NRS Estates Review I thought you would be interested to hear about our progress. I am always keen to explore ways in which we can improve our current services however the Estates Review offers the potential to offer significant benefits to our customers and we have selected a preferred option as our future Estates Strategy.

"In line with the requirement of all Government bodies and departments to ensure our estates portfolio remains fit for purpose and cost-effective we embarked on our Estates Review last year. We recognise the important role we have as the guardians of some of Scotland’s most treasured possessions and information and are committed to making sure that we do that job well at the same time as improving our services to customers.

"Our long-term aspiration is to co-locate the majority of our staff in a fit-for-purpose facility in Edinburgh, and to expand and improve our archive and public facilities at Thomas Thomson House in the west of the city. Although there are no immediate plans for NRS to move out of General Register House or New Register House, these buildings do not feature in our core estate over the long-term. This intention remains subject to a number of challenges and constraints, not least funding, and at this stage this is our preferred direction of travel over the long-term, not a hard and fast commitment.

"However as the realisation of this strategy will take a number of years and remains dependent on funding, we have also agreed a short term plan to address our two immediate priorities – to improve archive storage (for all records), and to build a more cohesive, collaborative organisation. These plans include extending the current archive facility at Thomas Thomson House, with digitisation facilities and public search rooms to provide better customer access to physical records, securing modern office accommodation for our staff in the same area, and re-locating the West Register House archive to Thomas Thomson House.

"Over the next few months we will develop an implementation plan that will allow us to make these changes whilst meeting our existing commitments. A component of the implementation plan will be engagement with our customers who use our services to develop a plan in line with their needs.

"I hope this is helpful and please let me know if you have any questions.

"Kind regards, Anne"

Following the above, I contacted Anne to ask for a possible timescale on this. I have been advised that the first phase of the strategy is envisaged to perhaps take up to five or six years to implement. In terms of a purpose built facility - if it indeed happens - this is still a long way off, but what the above is stating is that it is the preferred direction of travel in the long run to aim for this.

COMMENT: I have previously stated my thoughts concerning the present system offered at the National Records of Scotland in comparison to the services provided by the equivalent repositories in Belfast and London (see, which on many (though not all) fronts, are considerably further ahead. I've always held the view that New Register House and General Register House are merely bricks and mortar, and that what is actually important is whether or not I can access the documents I need to see, within reasonable constraints (for example, conservation considerations). A purpose built facility with onsite storage would certainly be in the interests of all, and whilst it is disappointing to note that such a development is perhaps at least a decade away from being considered, it is at least now on the radar in terms of direction of travel. The fact that a shorter term interim step in making better use of Thomas Thomson House is to be implemented is certainly to be welcomed. This is still five or six years away, and certain issues concerning the use of the facility still remain, however, I have been heartened to see efforts being made recently to address some of these, though there is clearly much still to be done.

(With thanks to Anne Slater)


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