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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 280 - 299)



Mrs Dunwoody

  280. Competition legislation is not only complex it is extremely slow. Frankly, it takes years. You could solve a problem by making somebody bankrupt.
  (Ms Keeble) That is only one option. There is the Ombudsman and there is HMSO, which regulates in terms of copyright.


  281. So how do you appeal against the HMSO's decision on copyright?
  (Ms Keeble) You said is there any form of regulation—who do you complain to? There are three. We are also, I would say, as part of the Stage 2 of the Quinquennial Review—

  Chairman: You can complain to the Queen, you can complain to all sorts of people, but it is not necessarily very effective is it?

Chris Grayling

  282. You can complain to the Minister.
  (Ms Keeble) Yes, you can complain to the Minister as well, and some people do that, I have to say.

Mrs Dunwoody

  283. Where do you refer it to?
  (Ms Keeble) I do not, I deal with it.

  284. So if there is a problem with copyright—
  (Ms Keeble) No, no, it should go to the relevant person, clearly. If there is an issue about copyright HMSO is the regulator. If there is an issue about the Companies Act legislation, I think you would complain to the OFT—and people do complain to the OFT and it is not actually that complicated.

Mrs Ellman

  285. But the evidence we have got suggests that people feel that they have not got a regulator—or at least not one that is effective. Why do you think that might be?
  (Ms Keeble) I am sure there are some sections of the industry that feel there is not a regulator, and it is a serious issue. I would say that there are some regulatory bodies that impact on different areas of OS work. I certainly agree it is something we have to look at under Stage 2 of the review. I completely agree with that. I think there are issues about governance and regulation which are extremely important and which we have to deal with. I think the area where there is a gap is the area of regulation for the geographic information market, as it were. There is a gap there, I would agree.

Ms King

  286. On that subject, the Committee has had sight of an article by the AGI (Association for Geographic Information) Chair, which says of the Quinquennial Review: "It presents an almost complacent view that there are no problems facing Ordnance Survey that cannot be solved by giving it a little more competitive market edge and paying its executives more". Do you think the review could have been more effective if it had started by considering OS's key role in the area, for example, that you just mentioned, rather than taking it as a given?
  (Ms Keeble) Yes. AGI was actually on the steering group for the Quinquennial Review, of course, as were DTLR (my department), the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. So they did have an opportunity to make comments about what they thought about the conduct of the review then. I think it is fair to say that the review—


  287. Wait a minute, the steering committee set up the guidelines for doing the review; it did not actually produce the review, did it?
  (Ms Keeble) No, but I think if you are on the steering—

  288. So if you set up the guidelines you hope someone is going to do the job vigorously. You can then hardly, as a minister, complain if one of those people who set up the guidelines feels that it was a whitewash.
  (Ms Keeble) I still think that if you have particular views about what a Quinquennial Review should cover and if you think there is an issue about the core function and purpose of OS, I think it would be fair to expect an organisation to flag that up as something—

  289. Surely that was flagged up as part of the Quinquennial Review?
  (Ms Keeble) I would still repeat that AGI did have a voice, they were not completely excluded from the process,—

  290. No, but they said "This is a key issue" and then when the review was completed it did not really address the issue.
  (Ms Keeble) They had a role on the steering group and they were party to setting up the review. I think it is fair to flag that up. I would say that I think that the Quinquennial Review went very thoroughly through the options open to OS. There are clearly issues that need to be looked at very carefully in Stage 2 of the review, which is why we have gone down that road instead of just saying "This is the decision, off we go". Obviously, issues about regulation and core and non-core activities, as it were, are some of the things that will need to be very carefully covered during that Stage 2 review.

  291. Just for the Committee's information, could you mention the other areas that might be covered?
  (Ms Keeble) I went through some of them in my opening statement. The issues which I am particularly concerned to see covered are issues about governance, which I think are extremely important, the issues about regulation, the issues about financial arrangements and a very thorough examination of the advantages of either moving to government-owned plc status or retaining—

Mrs Dunwoody

  292. But that was precisely the point that you made; that, firstly, the second stage was not going to go over anything that was looked at in the first stage and, secondly, that it would be very strongly targeted at deciding whether it should be a government-owned company or a trading partner. So you have implied that the second stage is an examination of the two alternatives, whereas the question we are asking is has anybody looked at what the real core activities are and whether you get into difficulties if for any reason techniques change and the demands of government become different from the ones that they were in 17-whatever it was. Even with the best governments, there have been one or two changes since 17-whatever it was.
  (Ms Keeble) Ninety-one.

  293. There you go. Time moves on.
  (Ms Keeble) The basic function is still there, it is a national mapping agency. The difficulty is that because the technology has changed the interpretation of what that means is not the same—

  294. So you are going to take account of that in the second stage and not just look at whether it is better value to have a trading organisation or a government-owned company.
  (Ms Keeble) We would have to look at some of those issues, yes.

  Mrs Dunwoody: So you would, in effect, be re-doing some of the work that was done in the first stage.

Mrs Ellman

  295. Is Ordnance Survey going to be made a government-owned plc?
  (Ms Keeble) That depends on the outcome of the Stage 2 review. What I have said is that I am minded to think that it should move to a government-owned plc and I think there is a whole variety of reasons for that. However, I think it is extremely important that whatever structure we get for OS it is the right one. It is in a very complex position, both because of the complexity of the market and, also, because of the importance of what it does for government services, so I want to make sure that, in terms of both finances and the implications for government public services, we get it absolutely right. Although I am minded to say I think it should move to a government-owned plc, it is not a closed mind.

  296. Do you think that would be the right structure to solve the conflicts between government and public interests as against those of private enterprise?
  (Ms Keeble) I think those conflicts are going to be there whatever the structure is because of the points I made before; that increasingly quite a lot of activities are going to come under pressure because of competition legislation and, also, there are big pressures coming up from Europe. Those are going to have implications—


  297. What are the pressures from Europe?
  (Ms Keeble) They think that a whole range of government services and information should be provided free of charge, as I understand it.

Chris Grayling

  298. What business is it of theirs?
  (Ms Keeble) At present they are looking, primarily, at environmental information. It is a way off yet but we have to have a robust framework and be aware that that is on the horizon. So the pressures are always going to be there.

  299. Why is that on the horizon? Surely that is not an area of competence for you.
  (Ms Keeble) Let me just answer Mrs Ellman's points first. I think what is important is that we get to a position where OS can deal with those pressures but, also, where it has a very robust financial framework so that it can continue to invest in the development of its database because the Government has a direct interest in having the highest possible quality of information to inform public services.

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