Custodian Spotlight: Mark Coram

Welcome to the first in our custodian spotlight series. These are interview-led articles which will aim to showcase and give us all a bit more insight into the world of custodians.

Every Register needs and has a dedicated custodian who is responsible for making sure that the Register is kept up to date and is accurate. Custodians play an incredibly important role in managing and maintaining important data registers and datasets. Without them, we would be lost!

This is why we felt it important to help shine a light on the important work that they do for each and every one of us and for the data community.

In today’s spotlight, we are delighted to introduce you to Mark Coram.

Mark Coram

Welcome Mark! Please tell us more about yourself and your role as custodian.

‘My name is Mark Coram. I manage two Registers of Local Authority Types and Local Authority Names.

I’ve been a Civil Servant for 31 years starting in Immigration (Working alongside my mum, brother and my sister-in-law), and then through Commercial Fire Safety Law, Park Homes (caravan sites in case you wondered) and Byelaws Officer before my current role.

I became the custodian when my predecessor in the role moved to another job and it was felt that my day job meant I was uniquely suited to the role. Plus, I have a reputation round these parts as a gatherer and finder of information.’

In your view, what exactly is a custodian?

‘To me the custodian is the holder of the record. It’s my job to make updates to the Register when they come up in a timely manner, thus maintaining the integrity of the Register.’

Who uses your Registers and how often do you update them?

‘The Registers are used by members of the public to ensure that they have the name of the council correct. This can be important in relation to legal claims, or indeed for those working on historical records.

I update the Registers as and when we make changes to the areas concerned.

Roughly three months before the change comes into force, I contact GDS and usually I wander over to Whitechapel and make the amendments with them. It’s quite a straightforward process.’

Why is it important to keep the Registers up to date and what triggers a change?

‘Changes to the records are important so that if an area is changing or being abolished, those using the Registers can be certain that the information is factually correct in terms of dates.

It’s actually a number of things that triggers a change. A council name change is one. It’s also when councils cease to exist when a merger or a unitary comes into being. In addition, a new entry would be added with the creation of a Mayoral Combined Authority.

We have one name change in progress at the moment. I wonder how many people without the assistance of Google could say where Babergh was?’

What would happen if a Register had no dedicated custodian or if an update is made too early?

‘In the case of my Register it would mean the wrong names being up online, with the possibility of people trying to contact a council that no longer exists.

Putting a new name on the Register too early before it exists can also cause problems for all sorts of reasons. It could give a member of the public the idea that they exist and can request information from them (perhaps via a Freedom of Information Act Request) before anyone is there to answer it!’

Is being a custodian to these two Registers your main role?

‘No, my day job is PA to Paul Rowsell CBE, Head of the Governance Reform and Democracy Unit.

There is a strong link between that role and my role as custodian, as this team deals with council mergers and unitary processes, as well as the creation of mayoral combined authorities. All of these need updates to the Register.

Outside of work, I’m a keen gardener, walker and I’ve been a member of the Civil Service Drama Groups for around 20 years now (one of our founder members was Honor Blackman!)’

What is it like being a custodian and how do you feel about this role?

‘I became the Custodian two years ago, and although it’s very much a solo responsibility, my colleagues are of great use as I work in the team that is responsible for any changes to Local Government areas.

I’m very lucky to work in a team that is very supportive – and the help I have had from GDS at every point has been great. In addition when I did my first amendment to the Names Register I wrote a blog for my Department.

The most pleasing part of this job is that I am putting information into the public domain to be used. That for me is a delight.’

Is there anything that would make your role easier?

‘I would if possible like to be able to make the amendments myself. I’d like it if there was some way via a secure link maybe, for the Custodian to amend the records. It would save the time of sending the records to GDS to update, or in my case a trip to Whitechapel for them to do it.’

Do you have any tips or advice for fellow custodians that you’d like to share?

‘My biggest tip for any custodian is to make the changes at the best moment possible. Only you will know when that is dependent on the Register you manage. In the middle of last year, one council suddenly decided it wished to change its name. This led to a very quick change to the Register needing to be made. As with all things it’s essential that you get the information right.

My other tip would be if you have contact with a user of your Register, engage with them as early as possible. One of my early contacts turned out to be the senior cartographer for the Ordnance Survey and was making online map amendments based on our Register.’

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us Mark and for taking the time to tell us more about what you do as the custodian to the Register of Local Authority Types and Local Authority Names.

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Nisa Chitakasem

Nisa is the Chief Marketing Officer at Register Dynamics. Having studied Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Imperial College, she has a strong background in technology and a great appreciation for what technology can do.

She’s a skilled business builder and specialist in start-ups who has joined the Register Dynamics team with energy and passion. Follow Nisa and the rest of the team @RegDyn.