National Archives chief Jeff James on 2017, joining the DCMS family – and what not to buy for Christmas

Written by Civil Service World on 16 December 2016 in Interview
Interview

With the end of 2016 fast approaching, we asked the UK's top officials to look back at the year, outline their goals for 2017 – and shed some light on their festive favourites. Jeff James, chief executive of The National Archives, takes part in our annual perm secs round-up...

The National Archives Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

What was your highlight of 2016?
At the National Archives we hold more than 11m records and this includes some of the world’s most iconic documents. In 2016, as part of the Shakespeare 400 commemorations, we took a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put Shakespeare’s will on public display, first at a major exhibition organised with King’s College London and then with the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, taking the will back to Stratford-upon-Avon. An astonishing and painstaking conservation effort was undertaken on the will, which includes four of Shakespeare’s six known surviving signatures. It’s been likened to removing wallpaper from a wall without removing the layer underneath without using water while ensuring that the wallpaper remains intact and undamaged! With so much focus on Shakespeare’s work during 2016, it was great to be able to provide some fresh insights into the life of the man. 

What has been the most significant change in your organisation this year?
This year we have been firmly establishing ourselves as part of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport family since the machinery of government change took effect last December. We have worked closely with ministers to champion the value of archives as a core part of the government’s ambition for the cultural sectors outlined in the Culture White Paper. With our current minister, Matt Hancock, we have launched a consultation on a new strategic vision for archives, one that will shape and secure the future of this skilled, innovative and increasingly digitally-enabled sector.

What will be the biggest challenge of 2017 – and how are you preparing to meet it?
As an archive, we will need to keep changing the way we think and work to meet the needs of our key audiences. One of the biggest challenges we face is our capability to ensure that government digital information survives and thrives. We’re now regularly taking in significant digital collections and as a partner in the Cross-Government Records Management project, we are working with departments to help them resolve their digital information challenges in a cost-effective way. Next year five digital apprentices from the National College for Digital Skills will be joining us. I’m very pleased that we will be supporting the development of vital expertise for the future. 

What was the best Christmas present that you’ve ever given or received? And the worst?
I once took my wife to Paris for Christmas, which I hope made up for the previous year when I gave her a steam-generator iron, which I hasten to add was at her request.

More: Perm secs round-up 2016 – Britain's top civil servants review the year and look ahead to 2017

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