Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. Because the people who at the moment are paying you are self-select?
  (Ms Lawrence) Yes.

  81. What you are suggesting is that you have a service which you can spread across the whole of Whitehall?
  (Ms Lawrence) At the moment we have relationships with people like the Land Registry through to very small relationships with some government departments who are just understanding the benefits. That totals about 40 government departments. We believe this pan-Government SLA would cover up to 400 government departments.

  82. So why are you not talking to the Treasury?
  (Ms Lawrence) We have people within DTLR, because there is a group within DTLR who are heading this for us, who are putting it together. Currently they are finding some difficulty regarding getting it centrally funded. We would be very happy to send you a note on this.

  Chairman: That would be very helpful. Thank you very much.

Christine Russell

  83. Moving on now to your working relationships with local government, to what extent is your database updated by local government authorities?
  (Ms Lawrence) First of all perhaps I could talk to you about our relationship with them and then I would like to pass you to my colleague David about how much information comes from them. We do have with local government a sort of local government agreement. Every local authority has access to our data. That is what we are trying to create for central government. That was centrally negotiated with the I&DeA and it seems very successful. Regarding updating, we have 70 local offices ourselves and we have very strong relationships in the local authorities. We have Ordnance Survey liaison officers within the local authorities, but for the specifics of the data coming from the local authorities into our database perhaps I could pass to David.
  (Mr Willey) I can certainly touch on some of that. For example, local authorities are the naming authorities for new street names and such like and we would normally be receiving information through that source. They also clearly have a much better overview of planning applications and such like and in a fairly informal way we have good relationships with individual local authorities and our own field officers to make sure that we are ahead of any changes that are planned so that we can be out on the ground making sure that they are in our database just as soon as they possibly can be.

  84. Do you see a need to formalise more the working arrangements that you have? Are there not inconsistencies in that some local authorities are very good and will tell you immediately that they have given out their planning consents or whatever, whereas with others your officers on the ground have to go and seek the new information? Is it quite an informal set-up that you have?
  (Ms Lawrence) We now have very strong links with I&DeA who are working with all their local authorities very much to save costs across all local authorities for data collection, but it is very much an informal process at the moment. We also have to understand that not all local authorities have a full understanding of geographic information. In 2001 the last local authority started to take digital data, for instance. They had been using paper mapping, but some of them have very large geographic information departments. It is a fairly diverse set-up across all local authorities.

  85. So in general you feel you have a good working relationship with them at the moment?
  (Ms Lawrence) Yes, we do.

  86. Do you think that will change if you become a Government-owned PLC?
  (Ms Lawrence) I do not expect any of our customer relationships should change. We have talked to our largest customers, of which I&DeA is one. Land Registry is another. They understand some of the constraints we currently have. I do not think our customer relations will change.

Mr Betts

  87. One of the things that local authorities have raised with us is that they feel that they are under pressure to recoup quite significant costs of mapping and therefore to pass on those costs to those involved in the planning process which can be quite a considerable cost for people who are putting in planning applications or who would be involved in the appeals process. Are you taking any steps to try and ensure those costs do not get out of hand?
  (Ms Lawrence) We introduced in autumn 2000 our pay-as-you-use system so that people were able to go and get small extracts of our mapping when they wanted. They can get it from the high street, from our Superplan agents; they can get it from local authorities; they can get it from some of our partners. Interestingly, we have just had a council come directly to us and start to talk to us about web-based systems and we do believe that that is a good way forward. We are working with them on a pilot scheme. I believe that is Wandsworth Council.

  88. Perhaps you would explain a little bit more about that as an idea.
  (Mr Erskine) We are running a trial with Wandsworth Council, the principle being that you have an on-line planning application service. It is in the very early stages of the trial period at the moment. To give you some idea, if you could pick an average urban area (of course no urban area is average or exactly the same as another) the cost returned to Ordnance Survey would be about £7.00 for something like that. The other thing we are moving on to is working with the Planning Inspectorate and the DTLR on the development of a national planning portal which will allow people to have on-line access. They have six projects running, of which we are involved in two. One is about making local authority development plans available on-line so that anyone can go and view them, which uses a mapping backdrop with the development areas on top of that. The other one is an on-line planning application service which again will utilise the pay-as-you-use services, as Vanessa has already pointed out, which have reduced the price of extracts of mapping.

  89. So at the end of the day is a person putting in a planning application or going through the appeal system who needs to use that service going to get it cheaper because of all these changes?
  (Ms Lawrence) From what we have seen, as more people start to adopt our pay-as-you-use system then there will be a greater number of partners, a greater number of local authorities, greater number of Superplan agents, we are certainly seeing that prices are being driven down. We are not in any position to set the price that they charge. As you know, we are not allowed to set prices as a supplier. What we are encouraging is more people to enter the market and as we see more people entering the market we are seeing that price come down.

  90. When we get these on-line systems coming in or when this project with Wandsworth is drawn out, is that going to drive the cost down?
  (Ms Lawrence) Our view is yes. We do know some local authorities do not pass the cost on to the customer. Some local authorities do pass it on very much so. We believe that this kind of on-line service will be very helpful to the system.
  (Mr Erskine) If I can give you a very general figure here, the introduction of pay-as-you-use and the returns to Ordnance Survey, because there are different ways of getting access to the mapping, have reduced the cost by between 25 and 50 per cent, depending on where you go to get that information. It has pushed that price down and made it much more acceptable to the consumer.

  91. Why did you decide to disband your consultative committees and what have you put in their place? What system have you got now which hopefully gives you the same feedback, and does it?
  (Ms Lawrence) Our consultative committees I believe were first set up in the late 1970s. They had not changed very much through the 1980s and the 1990s. In discussion with themselves there was a consultation paper on this regarding their future. Many of them thought that consultation needed to be done in a much more modern way than before. The formal consultation committees were disbanded in April 2000 but in fact many people have suggested that we have done much more consultation since disbanding them than ever before, very much at targeted groups.


  92. Targeted groups? You mean you pick and choose who you listen to?
  (Ms Lawrence) Not at all actually. We never had consultation with groups of cyclists, for example, and we made sure that all cyclists in this country were aware that there was a consultation day here to look at what exactly cyclists wanted. We also had 134 organisations involved as early adopters of the OS Master Map because before there had never been such involvement of customers at an earlier stage. We are also at the end of this month launching a new service under the consultation banner which is an e-mail newsletter with various ways in which to respond so that a greater number of people are involved in consultation than ever before.
  (Mr Erskine) One example is working with the Royal Geographic Society and the Education Committee there about how we can encourage the use of mapping and geography in schools. Focus groups are being put together and we have about 40 focus groups as part of a specific marketing campaign to look at future design and output of paper maps and that has covered a broader range than we could ever have got through the standing consultative committee process. We were able to get quite specific research into how people use our maps and how they would like to see them develop in the future.

Mr Betts

  93. I will move on to an issue very dear to our hearts, the election map service, available at very limited times of year. Why not all the year round?
  (Ms Lawrence) We set up the election website for you to be able to go and do your canvassing within your own constituencies. We set it up with two data sets: the 1:50,000 map, which is what many of you have used in the past; you have used 1:50,000 Landranger paper maps before. Then we overlaid it with Internet Street Mapping. What we have agreed is that at any time there is a by-election, a local election or of course a general election we will make the Internet Street Mapping, which is what most of you have chosen to use now when you are wanting to go round your constituencies, available to you over the web. We have taken a decision to turn off Internet Street Mapping during the times when there is not a by-election or a local election. We could also see that your usage of our website drops drastically at that time, and what we were finding was that we have many partners who were frankly running their businesses around Internet Street Mapping and there was a misuse of the site by people who should be accessing Internet Street Mapping from our commercial partners. They were going on to the election website to access that mapping free of charge. We know that the usage from the Members of Parliament and their offices drops off drastically when there is not a by-election or a local election and we also know that there is a lot of misuse of that data, so we are going to have it turned on whenever we know there is a by-election or an election coming on.


  94. Are you going to have house numbers on it? It does make a huge difference if you are going knocking on doors to know which end of the street to start at.
  (Mr Erskine) The Internet Street Mapping itself probably will not have the house numbers. Whenever we look at what might potentially go on future releases of any website of course we are open to any feedback we get from our customers.

  Chairman: It would be very helpful if it told you which end of the road No.1 was at.

Ms King

  95. Notwithstanding the high quality of OS services that you provide, which we have seen and heard quite a lot about this morning, do you understand the frustration of many quangoes and smaller bodies and organisations who cannot afford your products?
  (Ms Lawrence) Over the last 15 months a lot of the price adjustments we have done, such as the pay-as-you-use system, have been of considerable help. We have certainly seen and had discussions with small groups about their usage of our data. We are aware that many of them use them for their own lobbying or representational uses and so, whereas before they were having to buy large chunks of digital data on annual licences, now they just pay for what they are going to use and also if they want to copy paper maps they tend to use this £47.50 annual licence.

  96. Do you agree with their claims that it is too expensive?
  (Ms Lawrence) I do not agree with their claims that it is too expensive. We have worked pretty hard to address those issues. We are perfectly aware that there have been issues in the past. There were certainly some fairly high profile cases back in the 1990s but we have worked very hard on that.

  97. For example, what would you say to English Nature's current claim that the high costs of OS data are having a "damaging effect on our ability to fund essential work across English Nature and jeopardise both biodiversity action plans and public service agreements"?
  (Ms Lawrence) I believe they are part of a Government SLA.
  (Mr Willey) That confirms what we were thinking. English Nature are an example of a body who would qualify for the pan-Government SLA and perhaps gives even more grist to the mill in terms of getting that pan-Government SLA really working.


  98. They would qualify for it but they are not under it at the moment?
  (Mr Willey) I believe they could come under the SLA at the moment, but you are right, they are not currently members of the Government SLA to the best of my knowledge.[5]

Ms King

  99. They could come under it but other non-governmental organisations would not be helped by that. You are right: they could, and hopefully they will. I just want to understand what you are saying. If I were in your shoes I suppose I would say, "For all those of you who want cheaper OS products we have got to have more taxpayers money", because if you are saying you cannot cross-subsidise then you cannot raise money commercially to subsidise these products. That is what I might say. What do you say?
  (Mr Willey) It is true that we cannot cross-subsidise from our commercial companies, let us say two or three for example, to allow a small quango to get their mapping information at lower cost. That is quite clear.

5  English Nature are in fact a member of the existing Central Government Service Level Agreement. Back

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