The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's archive management team.
The FCO’s commitment to transparency
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) is committed to increasing public knowledge about foreign policy and the work of the FCO. As the then Minister for Europe stated to Parliament in January 2015 the FCO is committed to complying with the Public Records Act and to full transparency with respect to our record holdings.
The main FCO archive
The FCO maintains a records archive managed by the FCO’s Archive Management Team. This main archive consists principally of records in paper format and most of these records are housed at FCO Hanslope Park. A smaller number of archive files are managed by the Archive Management Team in London.
Like all government departments, the FCO maintains an archive of its standard departmental files. We hold around 600,000 of these files in the main archive, most of which are not yet due for transfer to The National Archives (TNA). The main archive also holds a further collection of files, also estimated at 600,000, which are known as ‘non-standard files’ - those which are outside the normal FCO filing system. These non-standard files are generally older than the departmental files and were created mainly by the FCO or its predecessors (such as the Colonial Office).
Files outside the FCO corporate file plan were formerly known as ‘special collections’. We no longer use this term because it is not an accurate description of these files. ‘Special collection’ is a term mainly used in academic libraries to describe their collection of rare books and manuscripts.
Archive records held in departments and at overseas posts
Some archive records are held outside the central archive, in FCO departments and at overseas posts.
Through our extensive records audit in autumn 2014 we identified around 170,000 files in legacy record series held outside the FCO’s central archive. These are records series which include, but do not necessarily wholly consist of, files overdue for review under the Public Records Act. The then Minister for Europe informed Parliament about these files on 21 January 2015. As the Minister explained, a significant proportion of the files contain copies of original records or routine management, finance, personnel and consular records. However, some of the records are likely to be of long-term historical interest.
All legacy files identified during the Autumn 2014 audit are retained under a legal Instrument approved by the Lord Chancellor. The FCO has requested further periods of legal retention for these files in order to allow us time to fully appraise the files under the Public Records Act. A project is now under way to carry out this appraisal.
The FCO’s paper file inventory
In line with Section 10.2 of the Lord Chancellor’s Code of Practice on the management of records, the FCO carries out regular record audits. We publish a snapshot of our paper file inventory on GOV.UK. The FCO will publish the next version of its archive inventory on GOV.UK in early 2019.
The FCO paper file inventory is a dataset which helps FCO staff carry out searches of FCO records. We use the inventory as a working document and it is continually updated. We also use the data to assist with our record review work under the Public Records Act.
The FCO’s file release process
The FCO’s file release process guidance sets out the file review and release process in detail.