Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
KEEBLE MP, MR
260. I am trying to get some principles here
as to whether this is a core activity and, therefore, whether
it should be something that in a sense is subsidised because good
planning is something that the country wants or is it something
that should be covered as an economic charge?
(Ms Keeble) I think the difficulty with quite a number
of the pricing issues is that it is going to be governed by competition
legislation and that is obviously going to put severe limits on
what can be provided free and what has to be charged for. That
has been the major issue for OS, as indeed it has been for other
261. I understand it is the problem, but I am
looking to you for the solutions.
(Ms Keeble) Well, they would obviously have to come
up with a pricing strategy, but depending on who is getting the
information and how it is going to be used, it would either have
to be charged for or it would have to be free, but that would
be within the framework of the competition legislation.
262. So in terms of the pricing strategy, should
it actually pay for the printing and the distribution of the map
or should it make some contribution to the collection of the data?
(Ms Keeble) The collection of the data is the absolute
core bit of OS's work. As the national mapping agency, it is the
collection of the data which is absolutely core.
263. Yes, but once that core activity has taken
place, when you use that data, should that core activity be paid
for by the taxpayer or should it be paid for by some of the charges
that come back through some of the ways in which that information
is provided either to companies or to the general public through
the maps which are sold?
(Ms Keeble) The maps which are sold I think we have
dealt with because they are self-financing.
264. They are not self-financing. You have just
told us that they make a loss.
(Ms Keeble) They are under one particular regime,
and if people go and buy them, then they go and buy them. If people
are getting a particular map of a particular area for a planning
application, the pricing structure for that would have to be determined
by all of the regulations and legislation which govern what OS
does. It cannot undercut the market; it has to operate within
that very clearly and if government services or anyone else does
not, they obviously face a great deal of pressure.
265. Now, if we have got things like the Landplan
and we add on to it, if you like, a pictorial aerial view over
it, is that still part of the core work of the Ordnance Survey?
(Ms Keeble) I think in a climate where the technology
is changing, yes, I think it is. Clearly time has moved on since
people went out and surveyed in person the countryside and there
are different types of information and products used, not just
by the public, but also, importantly, by the Government and I
think that the production of an imagery layer is an important
development and I think it could certainly be considered as part
of the core activity.
266. So the aerial map layer that the Ordnance
Survey is producing is done in one way, but how does that differ
from the way that Getmapping have been doing their aerial survey?
(Ms Keeble) I have to say I cannot answer for Getmapping.
267. I am not asking you to answer for them,
but there are two ways, as I understand it, of doing aerial survey
work and I am just asking you if you know the difference between
(Ms Keeble) In what way? OS has always done aerial
survey work as part of its data collection, particularly in rural
areas, and in that sense it is part of its production process.
The production of an imagery layer for OS's database is obviously
a different process. Now, I do not know what Getmapping is doing.
I have been obviously told and shown a fair bit about what OS
is doing and it seems to me that the plans that they have got
are well within the range of what they should be doing as part
of their core activities. Further, I think it is extremely important
that they are able to develop their services because that has
a direct cut-across into the planning and provision of public
services and we need them to be operating at the sort of leading
edge of the mapping world.
268. The problem of course is that the world
is round and it is quite difficult to get a round surface on to
a flat piece of paper, but perhaps we will leave that. Are you
sure that the core activities of the Ordnance Survey are well
(Ms Keeble) Well, we will certainly be looking at
those issues as we look through stage two of the Review, but I
think their basic task, as the national mapping agency, has been
clear for an extremely long time.
269. The Director General of Ordnance Survey
has told us that Ordnance Survey is not a monopoly, whereas our
witnesses have told us that it is. What is the Government's view?
(Ms Keeble) That it is not. Anyone here could set
up in business in competition with Ordnance Survey.
Sir Paul Beresford
270. Your not-so-short introduction mentioned
Ordnance Survey right the way through but there was no mention
of the commercial partners. Where do you see their relationship
with Ordnance Survey?
(Ms Keeble) Their relationship is to, if you like,
provide the applications using the data which Ordnance Survey
271. You draw a boundary at that point on Ordnance
(Ms Keeble) Yes. I think one of the key issues is
also what role they can best play and where they work out their
272. By "they" you mean Ordnance Survey
or the commercial partners?
(Ms Keeble) Ordnance Survey. I do not answer for the
private sector partners that they have. I think that the way in
which they have gone about their business, where they have got
the maps but other than that they have developed products or they
have set up a series of partnerships with commercial partners
who, by and large, develop the applications, it seems to me is
a much more successful way, both for them and for the private
sectorfor them because they can concentrate on the core
activities of doing the mapping and developing the data, and also
it then leaves the commercial sector to do the commercial applications.
273. You are defining the core in a very narrow
way. They get the data in, they prepare it, they use it to produce
a very high-quality product but then there comes a sort of Chinese
wall when other people must then build on that.
(Ms Keeble) They have their digital database, obviously,
but in terms of the commercial activities they do not engage in
those. It seems to me they have been successful in developing
a range of partnerships with companies who buy the data from them
and then use it onwards in a whole variety of applications. I
think that has been very, very successful.
274. Not if they end up in court with them.
(Ms Keeble) If you want to deal with the court case
I will happily
275. No, we do not want to deal with the court
case. We do want to have the point that, if you like, the danger
of not having clarity is that you do end up in court. In that
sense we want to deal with it but we do not want to deal with
the details of the court case.
(Ms Keeble) Okay, I understand that. Can I say that
I just wanted to make sure that you understand I am aware of the
background to that. There is always going to be an issue, given
competition legislation, of different sections of what we would
term public sector ending up in court under competition legislation.
We know that Companies House had a reference to the Office of
Fair Trading, and I think it is largely about its internet services
as well. So there is always that issue there. I think what has
been important is that the public sector services have got a great
deal to do in the way of using the geographic information to improve
services. We have only done a fraction of what we should have
done and I would like to see that personally very much extended
276. Is that a core function or is that a function
that could easily be done by the private sector?
(Ms Keeble) What to develop across government?
(Ms Keeble) I think it is for government services
to look at applying and using the information that OS provides
for their own interests. They could go out and contract with the
private sector; OS provides a very high-quality product and is
working across government. Government also, of course, pays for
those services as well. I refer to the Pan Government agreement
that starts this April. So I think that OS has done very well
to change from 1791 when it started, to keep at the leading edge
of mapping, to put itself in a position where it is a very powerful
force in the market and, also, to build partnerships which have
generated the finance and which have retained its position, from
which the public services have benefited very greatly.
278. If the user or the private sector have
a problem with Ordnance Survey, where can they go for redress?
(Ms Keeble) For regulation?
(Ms Keeble) As I mentioned, there is the competition
legislation which is obviously very important. There is the Ombudsman