Counting down from 30..29…28…

A black and white photograph showing a bicycle postal delivery with GWR Parcel Express written on the delivery box

Archives express: bringing you more recent history soon! (Ref: RAIL 254/32)

If you work in an archive service, or indeed work for any branch of government, you’re probably (hopefully) aware by now that from 2013, as part of a move towards more transparent government, government papers will be progressively released to the public after 20 years. Previously papers were released after 30 years, and to meet this new target, government departments must now review at least two years’ worth of records each year until the 20 year target is reached. Under the Public Records Act 1958, these records will be transferred to The National Archives or local places of deposit.

This is obviously going to have implications not only for government departments but for the archives receiving them, as they will be taking in larger quantities of records over the next decade. Since 2010, staff at The National Archives have been working to smooth this transition. We have comprehensively revised our guidance and processes for the selection and transfer of records, actively working with creating bodies and with places of deposit that receive archives. The most recent progress report, with returns from 84 departments and agencies, was published on The National Archives’ website on 1 July. We’ve recently undertaken a survey of places of deposit and are currently surveying creating bodies as part of this work. This data will form the backbone of our reporting on records transferring to places other than The National Archives. It has already yielded useful results which are informing our preparation, guidance and training. In the coming months, we’ll be rolling out further guidance to support places of deposit and creating bodies as they work through transition and providing training in line with this.

This is a really exciting turning point for open government. Far more ready access will be available to records of events in recent memory. This presents exciting opportunities from the academic to the casual reader to engage with the recent past in a more immediate and personal way. We’ll keep you posted as the countdown continues!


  1. David Matthew says:

    Whilst the ’20-year rule’ should help (it is 15 years in Scotland) it should be borne in mind that several departments including Treasury and The National Archives (TNA) have not met the ’30-year-rule’. It is ironic that the guidance from TNA has led to multiple copies of the same papers being transferred to TNA whereas before they would not have done so. There is a real issue in that the ’20-year-rule’ is governed by legislation that calculates the 20 years from the date of creation of the records whereas archives transfer 20 years from the date of the last paper, so for example a file could be released up to 16 years after it should have been under the legislation, so you may have a long wait unless you ask for the information under FOI legislation.

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