Examination of Witnesses (Questions 247
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
KEEBLE MP, MR
247. Can I welcome you to the Committee and
can I ask you to identify yourself and your team for the record
(Ms Keeble) Yes, I am Sally Keeble. I am Parliamentary
Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Local
Government and the Regions. I have with me Ken Swan, who is from
the Finance and Sponsorship Division and Peter Capell from the
Planning and Land Use Statistics Division.
248. Thank you very much. Do you want to say
anything by way of introduction or are you happy to go straight
(Ms Keeble) I would like to say something.
249. By all means.
(Ms Keeble) I am very pleased that the Sub-Committee
has decided to undertake this investigation into the work of Ordnance
Survey. I took on ministerial responsibility for it last summer,
along with my separate departmental responsibility. Ordnance Survey
is a non-ministerial government department. It is an executive
agency and operates, as you know, as a trading fund. As the Minister
for Ordnance Survey, I have particular responsibilities for its
strategic direction, for approving its business plans and to set
the agency key targets each year. I have to say, I have been extremely
impressed by the work of Ordnance Survey. The advances that are
being made with digitised geographic and mapping information are
very striking in their speed and quality. During the meetings
that I have had with the Chief Executive, presentations I have
been to and during short visits to Southampton, I have been very
impressed with the energy and the sense of direction that is going
into Ordnance Survey's programme of change on both a services
and a staffing level. They are very actively responding to the
needs of the geographic information marketplace, and also producing
a climate of change within the organisation which all staff are
being encouraged to contribute to, and some are clearly very supportive
of as well. They have made very significant progress over the
last two to three years and I am very keen to ensure that that
development continues. You will have heard that Ordnance Survey
data makes a huge contribution to the UK economy and we need to
make sure that that contribution grows and continues. However,
perhaps of more concern to me is the fact that Ordnance Survey
has a major role to play in the development of public service
delivery and that has very much informed my decision-making. You
will be aware that I announced to the House on the 19th December
that as a consequence of the report from stage one of the Quinquennial
Review of OS, I was minded to accept the recommendation that the
agency should move to a wholly government-owned plc. It was considered
that such a status would provide the flexibilities and business
freedoms to enable OS to continue to develop and respond quickly
and effectively to the changing demands of a rapidly evolving
industry and marketplace, and also, therefore, to meet the needs
of public service providers. The Department and OS have now embarked
on stage two of the Review that is seeking to produce a thorough
assessment of the costs and benefits that the most appropriate
government-owned plc model would have over the current trading
fund status. We have appointed consultants to undertake the work.
They will also look at the risks of a government-owned plc transition
and what might happen should OS remain as a trading fund. I should
say that stage two is not reopening the issues dealt with within
stage one, but the work is focusing on the government-owned plc
and trading fund comparison. I am looking for a robust and thorough
analysis to inform the decision. I expect to receive the stage
two report in May and to be able to announce a decision on the
future structure before the House rises for the summer recess.
We need to be very positive about the role that OS data can play
in both co-ordinating services across government and developing
citizen-based services. There are many opportunities, and I feel
that we have only at present scratched the surface. At present,
there are some departments and other government bodies that have
not yet gained access to OS data and I am sure that the development
of the pan-government agreement will help to develop those opportunities.
I should also say that I think that the steps that OS have taken
since 1999 to shift away from the development of more specialised
products within the marketplace has also been very important.
Its stated policy is to work with partners and it is their partners
who have the expertise and experience to develop applications
for OS data to meet particular market needs. OS will be facing
increasing competitive challenges in the future and I am very
keen that it is positioned to meet those challenges. It is very
important, I believe, that OS remains with the public sector arena,
but it does need to be able to maximise its investment arrangements
within the private sector and be able to attract and retain the
skills required to manage in a competitive environment. So I am
very optimistic about the future of OS and particularly its ability
to play a very important role in the development of public services
right across government.
250. Can I thank you very much for that statement.
Can I also apologise to you that I shall have to leave at about
ten to twelve for a hospital appointment, at which point Mrs Dunwoody
will take over in the Chair. Can I start by pressing you about
this question of the National Interest Mapping Service and the
core activities. You will be aware of the Landranger maps, the
1:50,000 maps. Do you see that as part of the core activity of
Ordnance Survey, producing those maps?
(Ms Keeble) Well, the core activity is the national
mapping and these maps which are produced I would say are part
of the core activity because they provide a range of service which
is really unmatched elsewhere, so yes, I would say it would be.
251. Do they make a profit?
(Ms Keeble) Not across the range. One of the functions
that OS has to do is it has to map the whole of the country and
it cannot just cherry-pick the bits which are particularly profitable
and produce those maps, so the range of them does not, although
one or two particular maps within the range might.
252. Should they make a profit?
(Ms Keeble) No, I do not think they should. Equally,
they should not make a loss. They have been subsidised obviously
in the past and I think some of them do still make a loss, and
I think a figure of 40 per cent has been given to you.
253. How should they cover those costs then?
Should the taxpayer be covering the costs? (Ms Keeble)
I think it is fair to provide some support for that particular
range of activities because it is a basic service that applies
right across the whole of the country.
254. So that deals with the 1:50,000. What about
the 1:25,000, the Explorer mapsare they something that
ought to be available right across the country?
(Ms Keeble) Yes, I think they should.
255. Should they make a profit?
(Ms Keeble) Well, both of those products should, as
far as possible, be self-financing so that they are not making
a great profit, no.
256. So they should just be covering their costs,
but they are part of the core activity of the Ordnance Survey?
(Ms Keeble) I would say they are, yes.
257. What about the Landplan range as we are
going down or going up in detailwhere should that come
(Ms Keeble) Well, in that it is an application, I
would expect that to be one of the core activities to provide
a range of mapping products of the more conventional type that
should not make a profit, but should provide a public service.
258. So if you were dealing with a planning
issue, you should be able to get hold of part of the Landplan
map at a very reasonable cost in order to argue at a public inquiry
that you want something to happen or you do not want something
(Ms Keeble) Well, I think that would depend on what
you are getting and what use you are making of it.
259. So if you are the developer who is going
to make a nice profit, you should pay for it, but if you are the
person next door who wants to protect your view, you should not
pay for it?
(Ms Keeble) I would not necessarily say that. Some
people might be able to get their maps through different agency
agreements or indeed rather than go out and buy a map, you can
get some maps off the Internet.