Responding Body - Background


1. Within the Ministry of Defence (MOD), Director General Intelligence Collection (DGIC) is charged to supply Geospatial Information (GI) to the armed forces in support of operations, exercises and training both in the UK and overseas. DGIC delegates this responsibility to the Intelligence Collection Group (ICG), where the Defence Geographic Centre (DGC) has arrangements for the supply of UK data both directly with the Ordnance Survey (OS), and through the Pan Government Agreement managed by Communities and Local Government. Defence Intelligence, Intelligence Collection Strategy and Plans (DI ICSP) provides the overall policy guidance for provision of GI to defence on behalf of DGIC, and the former Director DI ICSP (Brigadier Rigby) represented MOD on the GI Panel.


2. The MOD is therefore a major customer of the OS, and has a contingent interest in OS data. The MOD requires access to a reliable national database, which can be used for a range of 'non-commercial' defence and wider governmental purposes unconstrained by license restrictions, including civil contingencies and crisis response tasks. There has been a very close working relationship between the MOD and OS for the last 250 years, with the MOD being the 'owner' of the OS before it became a civilian government body. The MOD believes it is critical that the UK has a national geographic database which is both current and accurate, and available in a consistent and standard format for use by both public and private sectors.


Answers to Questions


3. Q1. To date the OS has provided an excellent service, and it is recognised as a world class organisation in the field. However, in recent times the boundaries applied to the use of Ordnance Survey's data for public service and national interest work have become increasingly blurred. MOD has experienced more stringency and complexity being applied to the release of data by OS, which has resulted in uncertainty and lack of flexibility in the use of that data by the MOD.


4. Nevertheless, one significant improvement for government users has been the setting up of the separate Pan Government Agreement giving members access to a suite of OS digital products. This arrangement allows sharing of products and derivatives between member government departments which has encouraged more 'joined-up government'. Whilst this is an excellent arrangement for those departments which can afford membership, it has not encouraged membership from those smaller departments where funding has been an issue.


5. Q2. The OS has introduced a more stringent dispute resolution procedure which escalates issues up to ministerial level if required; however this process could hardly be described as independent. Since the MOD and OS are not in competition the need for such a process has not arisen in our relationship.


Geographic Panel


6. Q3. The GI Panel has been in place for two years, and policy guidance has been provided via the UK GI Strategy, however the level of visibility and guidance provided to the user community has been disappointing. Indeed, the UK GI Strategy does not appear to have progressed much beyond the Chorley Committee several years ago. MOD awaits clarification on the way ahead following the next GI Panel meeting.


7. Q4. The GI Panel's membership is heavily biased towards the public sector and representational organisations (eg AGI, RICS). There is relatively little private sector involvement in the GI Panel, and disappointingly none at all from those areas where MOD believes that business interests in geographic information could be at its highest, eg transport companies, supermarkets, utilities, construction companies, etc. The Panel's terms of reference do state that an example should be set by government bodies, perhaps providing a slim rationale for the high level of government representation, however MOD considers there is a lack of balance.


8. Q5. It would not be appropriate for the single head of an organisation with a strong commercial interest to deliver advice to the government on all aspects of survey, mapping and geographic information. Such advice should come from government specialists or a committee of suitably qualified government representatives.

National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA)


9. Q6. The ending of the NIMSA will have a significant impact on OS, however this has not happened suddenly, and OS have used the time to undertake consultation with their major customers and seek views on alternative measures to reduce their costs whilst continuing a service. However it is clear that the OS will not be able to finance all of their previous activities and hence will need to change their business practices. This will inevitably result in reduced maintenance of the national geographic database unless a new source of funds is identified (or the government could reduce the annual dividend that OS are mandated to deliver).


10. Q7. The ending of NIMSA will impact the currency of the rural database used to generate mapping. It has been stated by the OS that they will attempt to find a more automated and hence cheaper way of reviewing and revising the rural and mountains and moor land areas and that the current date ranges of 5 and 10 years respectively for retaining currency of that data will be affected as little as possible. This intent has not as yet been proven.


11. [...]


12. Q8. Not applicable as MOD is not a local authority. However MOD was particularly pleased to hear that the Mapping for Emergencies service was to be continued and funded by OS for the future. It is however expected that prices will rise on all products.




13. Q9. The license costs imposed by the OS are particularly high and where data is not covered by the advantageous Pan Government Agreement, public bodies are paying very high prices or even finding the data to be unaffordable. Thus some government users are being denied access to this particularly valuable data.


14. MOD believes the problem here comes back to the boundaries issue. Perhaps it is time for OS to split in two to have a government funded national geographic database capability and a separate commercial arm which exploits that data, with the same licence conditions as applied to any other commercial user. As the MOD is not a commercial competitor it has not been affected by this aspect of the OS role.


15. MOD believes that the important needs of Government need be fully understood in the debate about the future of the OS and its national geographic database.



7 June 2007