Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
120. Good morning. May I welcome you to the
second session of the Committee's inquiry into the work of the
Ordnance Survey. Could I ask you to identify yourselves for the
(Mr Chainey) Spencer Chainey, Senior Vice Chair of
the Association for Geographic Information.
(Mr Linehan) Mark Linehan, Director of the Association
for Geographic Information.
121. We have had your evidence. Do you want
to say anything by way of introduction, or are you happy to go
straight to questions?
(Mr Linehan) I would like to make a short introduction
if I may. Simply to say that the Association for Geographic Information
was founded in 1989 as a recommendation of the select committee
inquiry into geographic information chaired by Lord Chorley. The
AGI represents those organisations, companies and individuals
working in the field of geographic information. As such we have
particular interest in Ordnance Survey as the national mapping
agency for Great Britain. We are supportive of Ordnance Survey
as an organisation because we feel that geographic information
has an absolutely fundamental role to play in delivering services
to the citizen, supporting the economy and delivering the modernising
122. In your written evidence you talk about
Ordnance Survey having a monopoly or near monopoly position. The
Director-General of Ordnance Survey told us that was not the case.
Why do you think it is?
(Mr Linehan) Our view is that in the area of large
scale mapping, large scale data, that Ordnance Survey has a dominant
position in the market, and there really is not an alternative
to Ordnance Survey data, so effectively they have a monopoly position.
123. Why do you think the Director-General of
Ordnance Survey felt it did not; what could she have been referring
(Mr Linehan) I think there are a number of things
that Ordnance Survey do that perhaps do not fit into the category
of monopoly. In the important area of large scale mapping, I believe
they are a monopoly.
124. Could you indicate some of the problems
that this causes?
(Mr Linehan) I do not think there is necessarily a
problem de facto with Ordnance Survey having a monopoly
position; it is the dangers that that poses to the public interest
if that position is not properly regulated, and if that position
is not treated properly. There are a number of organisations and
the public sector which is heavily dependent on Ordnance Survey
data, and they simply do not have an alternative to Ordnance Survey
data for delivering the work that they do. Our fear is that, as
Ordnance Survey moves to a position of greater commercial freedom,
that this position becomes more dangerous to existing users of
Ordnance Survey data.
125. Are there any particular examples you have
got in mind where the problem has occurred?
(Mr Chainey) It is not so much of a problem occurring
at present, but where it could go in the future if the Ordnance
Survey is given more commercial freedom in areas such as moving
into consultancy, internet development-type services where the
Ordnance Survey could certainly push itself into, where its monopoly
position could certainly give it opportunities which would override
certain private companies providing those services at the moment.
126. Are you talking about, for instance, the
fact that the Director-General of Ordnance Survey is the e-champion,
that the DG has to make return to the Treasury and, therefore,
there could be a conflict of interest in commercial terms?
(Mr Chainey) The potential is there, yes, in future
for that certainly to happen.
127. Do you think it is happening at the present
(Mr Linehan) Could you repeat the question?
128. It is around the issue that if the Director-General
of OS has been stated as the e-champion for geographic information,
and given that trading fund status of the OS means they have to
make a return to the Treasury, does that mean there is a commercial
conflict of interest?
(Mr Linehan) I think there are two issues there. I
think the first issue is that the Director-General of Ordnance
Survey is the advisor to government on geographic information;
but Ordnance Survey's role and what Ordnance Survey does, the
data it supplies within the whole sector of geographic information,
is only a small part. There is an issue there with the Director-General
advising Government on geographic information as a whole, when
the area she is responsible for is only a small part of geographic
information. I think that is one issue. I think the second issue
is that, as a trading fund and having to produce a return on investment,
that clearly affects pricing; and where there is no effective
competition in the area of large scale data that does present
problems for customers of Ordnance Survey.
Sir Paul Beresford
129. What is the solution?
(Mr Linehan) Our view is that the Quinquennial Review,
which is currently at stage two, has not properly looked at the
possible solutions. I do not think we necessarily have the solution
to date, but I think there are a number of alternatives that need
130. Like what?
(Mr Linehan) If you look at the current situation,
one needs to look at the question of the regulator. We proposed
an independent Geographic Commission that provides advice outside
Ordnance Survey which clearly has a particular interest in a commercial
Sir Paul Beresford
131. Could you give us some written answers?
(Mr Chainey) Yes, we could.
Mr Clive Betts
132. Just following through this particular
problem, do you think there is a problem in defining the boundaries
of Ordnance Survey's commercial work; do you think it can actually
be dealt with and who will do it?
(Mr Linehan) This is where we feel that an independent
Geographic Commission would have a role to play. If you look at
Ordnance Survey as an organisation it clearly has a number of
roles: it has a role as a surveyor; it has a role to maintain
the digital database and it provides map data and products. I
think it is in that third area where some of the boundaries get
blurred. What we have not got at the moment is a clear definition
of what should be the core geographic data sets that are of benefit
to the country and underpin the economy, and underpin the national
good. Were those to be defined it would be easier to look at the
blurred areas in the third role I described, where Ordnance Survey
is clearly at times competing with the commercial sector.
133. I suppose there are two positions or two
extremes on this: one is that Ordnance Survey should just get
on and produce anything it can and make a bit of money in the
commercial world and offset some of the costs, and that is good
for the public purse; the other position might be if the private
sector/commercial sector can do something then Ordnance Survey
should step back and allow them to do it. Are those positions
tenable, or not?
(Mr Linehan) Again, it comes back to defining what
the core role of Ordnance Survey should be. Are the two positions
134. Yes, one is that Ordnance Survey should
just get on and, where it can act commercially, act commercially
and raise money for the public purse; and the other one is that
if something can be done by another commercial organisation then
Ordnance Survey should step back and not get involved in that.
(Mr Linehan) I think it is important to note that
50 per cent of Ordnance Survey's revenue comes from the public
purse, either by way of direct grant through NIMSA or through
sales to the public sector; so it may be generating further revenue
to the public purse from the public purse.
135. Should it be doing that?
(Mr Linehan) I do not believe it should. I believe
that developing applications and value added services on top of
core data should be the remit of the private sector.
136. The private sector can do it if you allow
them to do it?
(Mr Linehan) Yes.
137. Could I just pursue what you said about
the Quinquennial Review a few minutes ago. Did any of the options
there really deal with this issue properly?
(Mr Linehan) No.
138. You are saying there is another option.
Would you like to spell it out for us?
(Mr Linehan) I do not think any of the options dealt
with it properly because the Quinquennial Review did not give
due consideration to what Ordnance Survey's core role is to have
been. I think that needs defining before the options can be considered.
139. You define what Ordnance Survey does?
(Mr Linehan) The Quinquennial Review took as a fact
and as a given what Ordnance Survey currently does and then considered
options based upon its current role. It has, as I have described,
these blurred boundaries. Our view is, had it considered fundamentally
the core role of Ordnance Survey, it could then have considered
options based on that.
1 The Director-General of OS is e-champion for OS,
in other words, she is responsible for championing e-government
within OS, as a government agency. The AGI is concerned about
the Director-General of OS being the adviser to government on
Geographic Information, which is a different role to that of an