Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80
TUESDAY 15 JANUARY 2002
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.
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.
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
(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
(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.
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.
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
(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
(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.
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
(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