Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
180. What does that mean for the apparent conflict
between the public service remit of Ordnance Survey and commercial
(Mr Linehan) We are concerned, as it moves towards
greater commercialisation, that there is the potential for Ordnance
Survey to focus on those activities that generate revenue and
produce income possibly at the expense of what we would refer
to as the national interest activities, the core role of producing
accurate up-to-date mapping for the country.
(Mr Chainey) And utilising its dominant position that
it has in increasing its revenue and causing conflict with the
industry that is already providing those services.
181. Do you see problems with cross-subsidy
between the commercial and public interest organisation activities?
(Mr Linehan) We have no evidence that there is or
would be but, clearly, if the money Ordnance Survey receives to
deliver a public service function were used to deliver its commercial
activities that would be a concern; but we have no evidence or
believe that is the case, or indeed that it would be the case.
182. What would your views be on privatising
Ordnance Survey, if there was to be a full privatisation?
(Mr Chainey) The problem with privatising the organisation
would be: would it still carry out certain national interest requirements,
such as rural mapping, where there would not necessarily be a
commercial return in carrying out those activities? Those activities
would then not necessarily be carried out but simply looking at
providing products which would sell more.
183. Can I turn you to the issue of Land Registry,
much debated in recent times, and has been changed fairly rapidly.
Is there actually a logical case for bringing the Land Registry
and Ordnance Survey together into one organisation and working
much more closely with maps and databases?
(Mr Linehan) I do not think we would propose or support
total merge of Land Registry and Ordnance Survey; but certainly
in a number of countries, Commonwealth countries and a number
of European countries, the Land Registry is responsible for the
large scale mapping and that is funded through taxation or registration
charges; and that produces good quality, large scale mapping of
property and land which is fit for purpose, and which is then
used by others for other purposes. That might be a way of funding
large scale mapping through that particular function.
(Mr Chainey) It is merging certain functions carried
out by both organisations at the moment.
184. There would certainly be a logic to it
if you are looking at a particular site, the ability to look at
an online Ordnance Survey map. There would be a logic in bringing
those functions together.
(Mr Linehan) Yes, there would be a logic. Our disappointment
with the Quinquennial Review of Ordnance Survey stage one and
also with the Land Registry is that it did not give such consideration
to this as an option, and we would request that it is given consideration.
185. You said you thought there was a conflict
of interest arising from the Ordnance Survey Director-General's
role as geographic advisor to government, and that causes some
conflict. Why is that?
(Mr Linehan) In two areas really: if an organisation
has commercial interests then it has to bring into question the
impartiality of that organisation advising government on matters
geographic. The point I made earlier was that Ordnance Survey,
whilst a large organisation generating a significant amount of
revenue and producing quality mapping of the country, is still
only a small part of the total geographic information sector,
and there are lots of other people doing lots of other things
which presumably the government advisor on geographic information
would be asked to advise on. Our view is that it is coming from
too narrow a scope.
186. You also talked about the issue of transparency
of discussions that take place. Does that not cause a problem
of commercial confidentiality? The Ordnance Survey is effectively
competing as well as serving. You have suggested that discussions
between government and Ordnance Survey should take place in the
public arena. Is there not an issue of confidentiality?
(Mr Linehan) If Ordnance Survey is developing commercial
187. What you are saying is that you want discussions
between government and Ordnance Survey to be public and transparent?
(Mr Linehan) Yes.
188. If that happened, is there not a problem
that the commercial information the Ordnance Survey has leaks
out and damages its commercial position?
(Mr Linehan) Yes, there is a danger and that is why
the question of the role Ordnance Survey has in the commercial
side of things is brought into question.
189. Almost everything it does has a commercial
side to it, does it not, so with almost everything that is in
discussion with the government there is a commercial element to
(Mr Linehan) That is true, and clearly boundaries
have to be drawn around what conversations can be had in public
and what conversations cannot. There are some fundamental conversations
that take place which are around what is required by the nation
and what is in the public interest that need to take place in
the public arena.
(Mr Chainey) 14 per cent of Ordnance Survey's income
comes from the taxpayer and 36 per cent from central and local
government, so there is obviously a need there for some transparency.
190. You also made reference to the resignation
of a former Director-General of Ordnance Survey as "turf
wars". Could you tell us a bit more about that?
(Mr Linehan) That was before my time as Director of
the Association. At the point of resignation of the Director-General
of Ordnance Survey at the end of 1999, since then within the industry
there has been a degree of turmoil and difficult relationships.
Both local government and the Ordnance Survey have made significant
progress in healing the wounds and it is not a significant factor
today, but it has hindered progress over recent times.
191. In your memorandum you recommend the establishment
of an independent Geographic Commission. What role would it have?
Would it have a regulatory role to help resolve some of the conflicts
around Ordnance Survey's boundaries?
(Mr Linehan) I think there are two functions that
are required by something independent of Ordnance Survey: one
is regulation in the role of an Ombudsman; and the other is the
role of advising government on geographic information. Those two
roles can be carried out by the same body but they are distinct
192. Can you tell us a bit about what Ordnance
Survey is doing in terms of developing new technology and whether
you think it is funding that development appropriately?
(Mr Chainey) First of all, it is more for Ordnance
Survey to actually voice what they are doing in making use of
193. Do you think they are doing a good job?
Are they doing the things that they ought to be doing, given the
new technologies that are available?
(Mr Chainey) They are moving in the right direction,
yes, with developing their geographic base.
194. You do not think that is breaking into
the areas of commercial competition?
(Mr Chainey) There are certain products within that,
yes, which have been raised as issues, like the imagery information.
Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very
much for your evidence.