8 JUNE 2007



1 Description of the Office for National Statistics and its relevance to the inquiry


1.1 The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for the production and publication of UK National Statistics. It is the Government Agency that conducts censuses of population in England and Wales and an extensive range of social and business surveys and it currently administers the civil registration service (births, marriages and deaths).


1.2 ONS, and its predecessor departments, have had an extremely long and close working relationship with Ordnance Survey and it currently makes extensive use of Ordnance Survey's products for a wide range of purposes. These include digital boundaries of administrative and electoral geographies to underpin the production of statistics and reference/thematic mapping, grid reference co-ordinates for unit postcodes and geo-referenced unit postcodes under Consortium arrangements which also support the production of social and economic statistics, address data used to provide a corporate address matching capability, and background mapping to support the enumeration of the 2011 Census and the regional and local management of social surveys.


1.3 ONS is also conducting research into the suitability of the Ordnance Survey MasterMap Address Layer 2 product (together with Intelligent Addressing's National Land and Property Gazetteer product) to provide a comprehensive address base to support census enumeration.


1.4 ONS and Ordnance Survey hold regular high level liaison meetings to discuss strategic issues of mutual interest and benefit. Both organisations are represented on a number of committees which include the UK Geographic Information Panel and the Intra-departmental Group on Geographic Information (IGGI). ONS is also represented on the interdepartmental group steering the re-negotiation of the Pan Government Agreement for the provision of mapping and ancillary services to central government.


Ordnance Survey : Public service information


Q1: In 2002, the Committee's predecessor, the Transport, Local Government Communities and Local Government Committee, concluded in its report on Ordnance Survey: "there is a clear need to define the boundaries of Ordnance Survey public service and national interest work" To what extent has the position changed in the intervening five years?


A1: ONS agrees that a clear definition of Ordnance Survey's responsibilities with respect to 'public sector and national interest work' is essential. ONS is not aware of any change in the position on this in the past 5 years.


Q2: In 2002, the Select Committee also identified "a clear need for some form of independent arbitration so that conflicts could be resolved" between OS and its partners and customers. To what extent has that position changed in the intervening five years?

A2: ONS are aware that Ordnance Survey is working in an increasingly complex legal and business environment - notably with recent changes to Competition Law and a number of recent legal challenges. In our experience it is clear that Ordnance Survey take their responsibilities to remain within the law extremely seriously and have made every effort to develop policies which are fair and consistent across its whole range of customers.


The complexity of this operating environment, however, does sometimes result in conflicts of views - including disagreement on points of principle between legal representatives on either side. Such conflicts are time-consuming and inefficient to government. ONS are not aware of any change in the situation on independent arbitration in the past 5 years and would strongly support a proposal to introduce such a facility.


Geographic Panel


Q3: What is your assessment of the UK Geographic Panel's operation since its introduction in 2005?


A3: The Geographic Information (GI) Panel is developing into an effective strategic group with the capacity to provide focussed advice to the Government. It has prioritised its potential activities under its terms of reference and focussed almost exclusively on developing a GI strategy for the UK. This seemed to be appropriate in 2005 but has resulted in a 2 year delay in action starting on the full range. Work on the GI Strategy appeared to be largely complete at the December 2006 meeting of the GI Panel, which approved the main elements of the strategy. However work seems to have slowed since and the Strategy has not (as of end May 2007) been presented to Ministers.


The GI Strategy is closely linked to the ground covered by the INSPIRE Directive and it makes sense to progress both together. The delay to the Strategy may threaten this link if the work on INSPIRE goes ahead before the Strategy is agreed. Apart from its work on the Strategy the GI Panel itself has not been very active on "To facilitate a co-ordinated position on potential legislation, both national and international, that might impact on the geographic information market" which could have influenced UK work on INSPIRE. It has, though, retained an interest in progress on INSPIRE.


The GI Panel is not directly resourced which has limited its capacity for action on its terms of reference. A resourced secretariat could help it move forward.


Vanessa Lawrence, Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey, has been a competent and enthusiastic chair of the GI Panel. She has acted strategically and does not appear to have been taking decisions which favour Ordnance Survey. Vanessa Lawrence has also, however, found it difficult to always find time for GI Panel business.


Q4: The Select Committee's predecessor, in recommending in 2002 that an advisory panel on geographic information should be created, suggested that it should have at least three members, including the Association for Geographical Information, OS and a private sector representative. Is the current panel's membership sufficiently balanced with three private sector representatives among its 12 members?


A4: Considerable expertise in geographic information issues is represented by the members of the GI Panel. Although there are only three private sector representatives the one from the Association for Geographical Information represents a wide constituency of private sector bodies and has been active in keeping them informed about GI Panel discussions. Overall the existing GI Panel seems to have good dynamics in its meetings, drawing fairly on the expertise of all its members. The ONS, through its involvement with the AGI, is not aware of any dissatisfaction with the balance of the GI Panel.


Q5: In a memorandum to the Committee during its recent inquiry into DCLG's Annual Report 2006, the Government said that the ending of NIMSA means "there is no distinction for OS between public service and commercial activity". If that is the case, should the head of a commercially active organisation continue, ex officio, to be official adviser to Ministers on "all aspects of survey, mapping and geographic information"?


A5: In light of their key role it seems entirely appropriate that the Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey should remain a key official adviser to Ministers on "all aspects of survey, mapping and geographic information". It is important however - particularly if the DCLG statement is considered to be true - that the views of other sectors or the GI community are taken into account, particularly on longer term strategic issues. This might be enabled through a strengthening of the role of the GI Panel and reconsideration of the chairing of the panel. Vanessa Lawrence has twice been reappointed as chair reflecting her competence and enthusiasm. But there is a question as to whether CLG as Ordnance Survey's sponsoring department should play this role.



National Interest Mapping Services Agreement


Q6: What impact will the ending of NIMSA have on OS's own structures, financing, turnover and dividend?


A6: ONS does not have sufficient knowledge on this issue to be able to respond to this question.


Q7: What impact will the ending of NIMSA have on rural mapping?


A7: ONS does not have sufficient knowledge on this issue to be able to respond to this question.


Q8: Will the procurement of necessary services be more expensive for local authorities now that OS is not providing them under NIMSA?


A8: ONS does not have sufficient knowledge on this issue to be able to respond to this question.



Q9: Some OS competitors allege it is able to use its position as public sector information holder to compete unfairly, either by imposing over-stringent and costly licence conditions or by developing products of its own in direct competition with theirs but without the associated information licensing costs. There are further complaints that OS is an effective monopoly, preventing fair and transparent competition in the geographical information market. What is your view of these suggestions?


A9: ONS does not have sufficient knowledge on this issue to be able to comment on the competition aspects of this question. We note, however, that licensing negotiations and agreements with Ordnance Survey are sometimes extremely complex and are consequently time consuming and inefficient for government. It would be extremely useful if simpler mechanisms for licensing of Ordnance Survey data could be developed. Such mechanisms would also simplify and so encourage wider 3rd party use of Ordnance Survey products and of other public sector information.