Records Act audits to aid groups

The Public Records Act audits of more than 2000 organisations which will begin next year are expected to focus on how organisations can improve rather than punishing them for failings.

Under the 2005 Act, fines up to $10,000 can be imposed for non-compliance, but Archives New Zealand acting chief executive and chief archivist Greg Goulding says the first round of audits will be looking at what organisations are doing well and where they could most productively put their effort.

Different organisations would be at different stages of the compliance process and that would be recognised in the audits, which will take place over a five-year cycle.

Audits could expose areas of potential risk that organisations might not be aware of.

It was also possible there would be organisations which were "champions" which could be a model for other similar groups.

Ensuring electronic records are stored as well as paper records had been in the past was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Act, he said.

Changing technology meant electronic records held by organisations had to be actively rather than passively managed as paper files had been.

A paper record could be stored in a file on a shelf for 20 to 50 years and survive, as long as it was not affected by fire or flood, but information on a floppy disk sitting on a shelf would be "garbage" after a similar time.

Not that Mr Goulding would recommend all electronic records be converted to paper.

That would be a backward step, losing the context in which the information was originally created and possibly some of the meaning, he said.

For most organisations which were increasingly recording material electronically, it would not be an option they would favour.

To prevent information becoming irretrievable, organisations needed to have plans in place allowing information to be transferred to new systems.

One of the biggest questions organisations had to ask was how long did they need to keep the various pieces of information in their care.

Having decided how long information needed to be kept and how it would be kept, organisations had to ensure they disposed of records in accordance with the Act.

One of the issues organisations had to deal with was how to manage emails which were now a primary means of business communication.

Archives New Zealand has set standards for what is required and has been running training sessions to help organisations with their planning.

Mr Goulding said a manager for the audit process would be appointed this month and that person would have two or three staff.

It was expected some of the audits would be done by outside contractors.

• Otago and Southland District Health Board regional chief information officer Grant Taylor advised recently the boards would not be compliant with the Act by the time the audits started, estimating that it could cost up to $1,156,225 for a project to get staff and records up to speed.

While clinical records were well managed, there were poor records management processes and no policies for electronic records.

Continuing current practice was not a realistic option due to the legislative requirements, he said in his report.

Public Records Act 2005

• Covers more than 2000 organisations including government departments, local bodies, district health boards and school boards of trustees

• Requires these organisations to create and maintain accurate records in accordance with normal prudent business practice

• Rules apply to storage, transfer and disposal of records

• Requires organisations covered to be audited

• Sets fines of up to $10,000 for damaging, disposing or destroying a public record in contravention of the Act or failing to comply with it or associated regulations



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