This is a short report on an online survey conducted with 166 NSW Government agencies and State Owned Corporations between February and March 2008. The survey sought to identify the nature of arrangements and the cost of storing non-current  paper records and the level of implementation of records retention and disposal authorities. In addition the survey also sought to obtain information from those Government agencies without a comprehensive records retention and disposal authority on their timing and plans for this work.
The basis of the survey was provided by the Ministerial Memorandum M2007-08 (Efficient and Cost Effective Management of Records) which requires agencies to respond to such requests from State Records for information on records storage arrangements, costs and potential savings; and requires agencies without a comprehensive records retention and disposal authority to inform State Records when they will be doing this work. In addition, section 12(4) of the State Records Act 1998 requires each agency to report on its records management program in accordance with arrangements made with State Records.
For State Records to progress its program in better disposal implementation, baseline data was required on
- where non-current records are stored
- how many boxes of non-current records were sitting in storage
- how much were they costing to store, and
- how many boxes had been sentenced for eventual disposal?
Memorandum M2007-08 provided a framework to pose these questions to NSW Government agencies and State Owned Corporations. A similar survey has recently been conducted with the public health system to obtain baseline data on the storage and disposal of public health records.
The survey was quantitative and provided results and information which will be applied to the Disposal Implementation Improvement Program to assist organisations to undertake disposal projects aimed at improving practice and making savings, through the destruction of records and the transfer of designated State archives to State Records.
The survey was distributed to 166 Government agencies and State Owned Corporations. We received a 100% response rate to the survey.
State Records would like to thank all public offices for their cooperation and participation in the survey. The information we have gathered will be very useful to the Disposal Implementation Improvement Program.
On 1 January 2008, NSW Government (that is NSW Government agencies and State Owned Corporations) stored 2.8 million boxes of non-current paper records. The total cost of this storage is estimated at $12.8 million per annum.
It should be noted that a number of organisations had difficulty in providing accurate information about costs for records storage. Generally, where an organisation receives an invoice for a service such as the storage of records, information about upfront costs was easy to provide to State Records. However, where an organisation owns or leases premises, records staff were usually unable to provide information on costs for storage. For these situations, State Records applied a standard commercial storage rate to records stored at warehouse-type facilities owned / leased by organisations and for boxes stored in office accommodation, we used a rate per box based on office accommodation leasing costs.
From the information provided, we learned that the majority of non-current paper records are stored in offsite storage - 76% at commercial storage providers and 13% in warehouse facilities. From this data, its clear that the Government's policies in reducing the size of office accommodation has been successful and that organisations have moved paper records to cheaper offsite storage and generally only store paper records onsite that are required for current business purposes.
The survey data also revealed that many organisations use a mix of storage options, for example, it is quite common for organisations to use both commercial storage and office accommodation for their non-current records.
37 organisations store their non-current records in warehouse facilities. The quantities of records that each of these organisations stores in warehouse storage are generally much smaller than the quantities of records stored in commercial storage repositories. Interestingly, more than half of the warehouse storage in regional and rural locations is leased/owned by organisations which are large Government departments and which have multiple locations throughout NSW.
The survey sought to identify if non-current records were stored in temporary storage locations other than commercial storage facilities, warehouse facilities or in office accommodation. Only a small number of survey participants answered:
- 5 organisations use shipping containers as a temporary storage location
- 2 organisations use demountables, and
- 13 organisations advised that they use a range of buildings (including depots, sheds, and treatment plants) as temporary storage locations.
Sentencing records using authorised disposal authorities establishes a disposal date for the record or a 'trigger' for its physical destruction or transfer as State archives. Without such triggers, records remain in storage for unlimited periods of time.
The survey asked participants what percentage of non-current records in storage had been sentenced for disposal. Only 10% or 17 organisations have sentenced 100% of their non-current records in storage. 45% of organisations surveyed have not sentenced any records in storage.
The results in this section of the survey are a concern to State Records. 66% of non-current paper records in storage (equates to 1.9 million boxes of records) have not been sentenced. When comparing this figure with disposal coverage across agencies and State Owned Corporations, we found that 63.5% of the 1.9 million boxes could be sentenced as their creating/managing organisations have disposal coverage. This means 1.2 million boxes could be sentenced now.
This low level of sentencing of records in storage has had an impact on the potential to make cost savings across Government and also has an impact on good records management.
Generally, organisations which sentence records on creation or prior to their transfer to offsite storage, have provided a mechanism (disposal triggers) for the ongoing management of records and their eventual disposal. These organisations are able to plan their storage needs and control costs, by
- undertaking regular destruction of records which have been retained for the correct retention period and have now expired
- planning current and future storage needs, including anticipating growth in storage accumulations
- regular and timely transfer of records, as State archives, to State Records, and
- minimising costs.
It is likely that many of the unsentenced records in storage are due to poor sentencing practices in the past, with many organisations failing to sentence records before they transfer them to storage, thus resulting in a sentencing backlog. This sentencing backlog will need to be reduced if agencies and State Owned Corporations are to minimise storage costs and make savings to Government.
The low level of implementation of disposal authorities poses a number of issues:
- records without accurate sentences cannot be disposed of
- records which cannot be identified in storage, cannot be sentenced, and
- records that cannot be identified nor sentenced, need to be retrieved from storage in order to confirm the contents of the box and potentially be re-listed, and then sentenced.
The survey findings show that there are substantial gains to be made by Government agencies and State Owned Corporations
- undertaking sentencing at the point of creation
- planning and managing records storage
- tackling unsentenced accumulations of records, and
- planning and managing disposal programs.
State Records will be working towards improvements in this area by undertaking:
- a program to follow-up with those organisations with large accumulations of unsentenced records seeking their plans for reducing these accumulations where they have a functional retention and disposal authority in place or ensuring that they have plans in place for the development of a functional retention and disposal authority.
- from 1 October 2008, all agencies submitting draft FRDAs for approval will need to submit a disposal implementation plan which will advise State Records of the agency's plans for implementing the new functional retention and disposal authority (and other general disposal authorities) with current and future records, unsentenced records in semi-current storage, and plans for transferring archives to State Records.
- a further survey in 2010 on storage and disposal to measure improvements in this area, and
- revision of guidance and advice provided by State Records on implementing retention and disposal authorities.
NSW Government agencies and State Owned Corporations will also need to work towards improvements in the implementation of retention and disposal authorities. Essentially, agencies and SOCs will need to:
- identify their legacy records
- the percentage of records requiring sentencing, and
- then undertake projects to sentence and dispose of these records.
Sentencing will often result in immediate disposal of some time-expired records and will set a trigger for the management of other records.
Some agencies are already addressing this issue through dedicated records storage reduction projects. State Records is aware that such projects require resources (staff and budget allocations) to address the unsentenced accumulations in storage. In the revised guidance on implementing disposal authorities, further advice on how to prepare business cases seeking resources for disposal projects will be provided.
Importantly, Government agencies and State Owned Corporations should ensure that they retain records for the correct periods of time prescribed in disposal authorities.
With an appropriate sentencing strategy, regular disposal programs and sensible storage strategies, agencies can be sure that they are retaining the records they need and are allocating the appropriate resources to managing and storing those records.
 Non-current records are those records that are required infrequently for the conduct of day-to-day business and have been transferred from an organisation's office space to a secondary storage area (in-house or off-site) or to a commercial storage facility.
Published September 2008