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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120 - 139)




  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 record.
  (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 Government agenda.

Mrs Ellman

  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 to?
  (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.

Ms King

  126. Are you talking about, for instance, the fact that the Director-General of Ordnance Survey is the e-champion[1], 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 time?
  (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 consideration.

Mrs Dunwoody

  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 sense.

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 tenable?

  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 e-champion. Back

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