Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Fifth Report


The purpose of our inquiry

1. Ordnance Survey is frequently described as a national treasure. For more than two centuries, it has surveyed and mapped every square centimetre of Great Britain. On its most visible product—the large-scale maps used every day in every town, village, country lane and remote outcrop—drivers and ramblers, campers and hill-walkers, weekenders and seasoned mountaineers will find every house, every fence, every church and every welcome tavern carefully and accurately marked. Even among its most trenchant critics, Ordnance Survey is a byword for quiet excellence.

2. But those critics exist none the less. For most of its 216-year existence, the agency has been a governmental body, publicly funded and managed. Since public sector reforms in the 1980s and 1990s, however, Ordnance Survey has become a Trading Fund and an Executive Agency. It is still overseen by a Government Department—Communities and Local Government (CLG). It is funded, however, to only a limited degree (and latterly not at all) and required to make a return, in effect a profit, on its operations and to open itself out to commercial competition. This reform has in turn raised questions about the ability of such a dominant organisation to operate fairly in the geographical information market.

3. In mid-2002, our predecessor, the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, inquired into Ordnance Survey's operations. It concluded, among other things that there was "a clear need to define the boundaries of Ordnance Survey public service and national interest work."[1] Our decision to revisit our predecessor's work five years on was prompted in part by the Government's removal in October 2006 of the final strand of public funding from Ordnance Survey and substantially by CLG's statement in response to questions during our inquiry into its 2006 Annual Report that that ending of the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA) meant that "there is no distinction between public service and commercial activity for Ordnance Survey."[2]

4. To gauge whether matters were quite as straightforward as this implied, we approached eight organisations—Ordnance Survey itself, CLG, the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI), the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI), the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Association for Geographical Information (AGI) (which represents both public and commercial information users), the Locus Association (a private sector representative body) and Intelligent Addressing Ltd (a private company which had made the first formal complaint against Ordnance Survey under recently introduced regulatory procedures). As news of our interest spread, we received unsolicited submissions from a further nine organisations, including two Government Departments, representative bodies both governmental and non-governmental, and private sector companies.

5. It is instantly clear from the submissions that we received that the expertise and dedication of Ordnance Survey's staff and the accuracy and quality of its products are held in the highest esteem. What is equally clear, however, is that the assertion that there is no difference between its roles as a public service provider and a commercial organisation does not match the experience of those bodies—governmental and private sector—who seek to purchase and use the products it provides. Praise for Ordnance Survey's excellence mingles with frustration at what is perceived to be the cost and complexity of obtaining information required to provide public services and to create a base on which private sector competitors may build profitable products of their own.

6. The clear sense identified by our 2002 predecessors that the boundaries are blurred between Ordnance Survey's public service and commercial roles remains strong. Indeed, Ordnance Survey itself believes that a clear distinction between the two roles is impossible to maintain.[3] There is also a clear perception that Ordnance Survey continues to operate as a virtual monopoly provider in the field of geographical information provision, and that the regulatory frameworks created specifically to overcome the difficulties raised by its dominant market position have so far proved difficult to use and ineffective.

Ordnance Survey

7. Ordnance Survey was created in 1791—two years after the beginning of the French Revolution—so that the British Army and Royal Navy might have suitable military maps for the defence of the realm. Over the next two centuries, it became established as a global exemplar of how to map accurately and in detail as it plotted the changing terrain of Great Britain. By the time of our 2002 inquiry, Vanessa Lawrence, then and now Ordnance Survey's Director-General and Chief Executive, could say without fear of contradiction: "The Ordnance Survey brand is known throughout Great Britain and in fact throughout the world."[4] By 2005-06, Ordnance Survey had a trading turnover of £105 million, returned £7.9 million to Government and employed nearly 2,000 people.[5]

8. Since 1999, Ordnance Survey has been a Trading Fund—still part of government, but largely funded through data licensing rather than directly from the public purse. Ordnance Survey continues to operate as a Government Department with executive agency status, but two CLG Ministers are responsible for the public and private parts of its function: Iain Wright MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary, is currently the "shareholder" Minister, and Baroness Andrews, Parliamentary Under-Secretary in the House of Lords, is responsible for CLG's customer relationship with Ordnance Survey. In addition, within CLG two separate sets of officials report to the appropriate Minister on each aspect of the relationship. In June 2007, Mr Wright's predecessor, Angela Smith MP, set Ordnance Survey performance targets for 2007-08, including an operational profit of £14.6 million and an increase in business of 5 per cent.[6] The terms of Ordnance Survey's public task are set out in the Annex to its second memorandum to the Committee.[7]

9. Although Ordnance Survey is probably best known for the detailed maps on sale in High Street bookshops, those are in fact a tiny part of its business. The agency is responsible for creating the Great Britain master map, to which changes are made daily—sometimes up to 5,000 of them—as the landscape changes and areas are re-surveyed. That body of data is its unique treasure trove. No one else can gather that data, except from Ordnance Survey, because the costs of mapping in such depth and such detail are prohibitive. From that master map, Ordnance Survey itself derives both paper and digital products, including the famous Landranger-type maps, global positioning systems software and information sets, such as address lists. But most of its revenue comes from licensing the data it collects to private sector companies that add value of their own by translating it into products, such as perhaps most famously the A-Z street atlases of most British cities. These may be based on an annual licence fee, or on a licence allowing products to be used on a specified number of computers or by a set number of users. For some products, the initial charge may be accompanied by a data maintenance fee and/or a copyright fee. By the time our predecessor Committee investigated Ordnance Survey in 2002, the Trading Fund arrangements were three years old and tensions had already begun to arise over precisely how Ordnance Survey operated the licences that other organisations, both public and private sector, require if they are to purchase and reuse that basic data.

The 2002 inquiry

10. The 2002 Report mapped out the difficulties, created by the shift to Trading Fund and executive agency status, relating to ambiguities over where the boundaries lie between Ordnance Survey's role as the guardian and provider of public information and its new role as a profit-returning organisation. Of course, Ordnance Survey had long had a commercial function; its maps had been on sale before 1999, and it had supplied data sets for others to build on. But the tension between Ordnance Survey's long-developed public service function and its new position as just one player, albeit an unusually large one, in the field of geographic information provision had sharpened concerns about its potential to be a monopoly supplier competing unfairly with smaller, privately funded concerns.

11. Our 2002 predecessor, drawing a distinction between the data Ordnance Survey was obliged to collect as a publicly funded agency and the value-added products it might derive from those data, concluded that:

The 2002 Committee further concluded:

    If Ordnance Survey wants to enter into commercial activities we can see no reason why it should not do so, but the two activities ought to be separately accounted for and its commercial arm should pay the same copyright fees as any other organisation/competitor.[9]

The Committee listed four more issues that needed to be addressed in order to put the relationship between the OS and its competitors back on track:

    the dual role of OS as a public service provider and a commercial organisation; the boundaries between OS's operations and those of its licensed partners; the difficulties caused in pricing and copyright negotiations by OS's dominant position in the market; and the availability and cost of OS data.[10]

The regulatory and competitive landscape surrounding Ordnance Survey has changed over the intervening five or so years, particularly with the introduction of a new regulatory framework and the creation of a Geographic Information Panel to advise Government. None the less, the fact that all the issues identified as problems in 2002 have repeatedly been raised in evidence submitted to us suggests that underlying tensions remain unresolved.

Public information, private competition

12. The central issue animating our predecessor's inquiry was the question of how Ordnance Survey maintained a distinction between its potentially contradictory roles as the national mapping agency gathering, maintaining and supplying geographical information and as an organisation required to fund those actions, and return a profit, from the commercial development, sale and licensing of products based on that information. That question remains the single largest tension affecting relations between Ordnance Survey and its partners, customers and competitors.

13. Ordnance Survey itself recognises the difficulty of locating the exact boundary between its public and private operations, but argues that the absence of any government funding for its work and the consequent requirement to fund itself entirely from its operations makes it near impossible to draw such a distinction:

Ordnance Survey costs the taxpayer nothing. Indeed, it fulfils its role as the national mapping agency while returning an annual profit to the Treasury. We recognise that the fact that Ordnance Survey is required to fund both its Public Task and commercial work entirely from its own revenues makes it difficult to define precisely where its public duty ends and its competition with private operations begins.

14. This lack of clarity causes considerable disquiet among Ordnance Survey's customers, competitors and even partners. The Office of Public Sector Information, the effective regulator for Ordnance Survey, notes: "Tensions can arise from the boundaries between public service and commercial activities for government trading funds" in general.[12] The Office of Fair Trading believes Ordnance Survey is unusual even among major public service information holders in omitting to separate its "monopoly and competitive functions in any way", and says that no description or definition arrived at since 2002 has succeeded in clarifying the distinction between Ordnance Survey activities that derive from its statutory position as the sole organisation granted certain monopoly rights and those it conducts wholly commercially.[13] The OFT therefore argues for a narrow definition of the public service and national interest work done by Ordnance Survey, noting that other organisations that have a similar public-private split in their task draw a clearer distinction between the two elements of their operation. It gives the example of the Meteorological Office (although it, unlike Ordnance Survey, still receives government funding).[14] The OFT argues in particular that Ordnance Survey should, in the interests of transparency, seek to represent the distinctions between its public service and commercial operations in its annual accounts. This was the view taken by our predecessor Committee in 2002.

15. In its 2006 report on the commercial use of public information, the Office of Fair Trading recommended that Ordnance Survey do this by classing operations using "unrefined" data (that is, the raw data Ordnance Survey collects, holds and maintains as the national mapping agency, including its historic archive data) as part of its public task while classing operations involving "refined" data (that is, products for which Ordnance Survey has added value to the base unrefined data) as the work of its commercial arm. Ordnance Survey has resisted this recommendation, on the grounds that the OFT's concepts of unrefined and refined data do not fit accurately with the terms of the Public Task agreed by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Ordnance Survey.[15]

16. The Government, however, has accepted in principle the recommendation that public service information holders should account separately for costs and revenues from refined and unrefined information operations, and discussions are continuing between the Office of Fair Trading and Ordnance Survey on the point.[16] Ordnance Survey is the only major public service information holder that does not distinguish in its annual accounts between the costs of and revenues from operations primarily conducted in pursuit of its public and its private tasks.[17] Our predecessor Committee recommended as long ago as 2002 that Ordnance Survey should account separately for its commercial activities. In the interests of transparency, particularly given Ordnance Survey's dominant market position, we recommend that it seek to distinguish as clearly as possible in its annual accounts between the activities it undertakes purely because it remains a quasi-governmental national mapping agency and those it conducts on a firmly commercial basis. We accept that the absence of public funding and the requirement wholly to fund itself place Ordnance Survey in a unique position, which will make a total separation of its activities difficult to achieve.

Licensing data

17. The second area in which disquiet has been raised about Ordnance Survey's relationships with customers, partners and competitors is licensing. Ordnance Survey sets out its own position clearly:

We recognise that Ordnance Survey's need to fund itself almost entirely from income obtained from licensing re-use of the information it holds requires it to protect as stringently as it can in those licences the intellectual property rights in its base data. International experience suggests that any diminution in its funding levels could affect the quality of the information it provides to its customers. That said, Ordnance Survey should work co-operatively with the private sector in the field.

18. Two dangerous pitfalls have been identified as arising, however, from the way in which Ordnance Survey operates its licensing policy. First, licences are perceived by users in both the public and private sectors as being too costly, over-complex and difficult to negotiate. Secondly, some conditions set by Ordnance Survey have been perceived to be over-stringent and potentially anti-competitive, particularly as regards organisations that compete with it directly or that enter into dispute with it.

19. In its report on the commercial use of public information, the Office of Fair Trading focused on the licence conditions Ordnance Survey set for competitors and partner organisations, highlighting specific and potentially anti-competitive restrictions contained in Ordnance Survey licences. For example, some licences contained a "non-compete" clause, meaning that competitor organisations could not use Ordnance Survey's base information to provide products that competed directly with products produced by Ordnance Survey itself. The OFT regarded this as an unreasonable restriction on competition, and concluded: "We consider this policy to be more restrictive than is appropriate for a public monopoly".[19] Ordnance Survey licences have also included a condition allowing it to end a contract with a licensee which enters into dispute with Ordnance Survey, which provides an obvious barrier to a competitor or customer who wishes to make a complaint.

20. The Government, in its response to the Office of Fair Trading report, accepted the recommendation that the "non-compete" licence condition should be removed, and this has subsequently happened. None the less, the fact that Ordnance Survey has included clauses in licences that effectively require competitors not to compete with it or to complain about it provides a clear example of why both private sector and governmental organisations sometimes perceive it to be acting uncompetitively and unfairly. No such condition should again be included in any licence.

21. The Office of Fair Trading reported that almost one third of organisations dealing with Ordnance Survey as a public service information holder had complained of experiencing problems in accessing data.[20] The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Office for National Statistics and the Ministry of Defence all described long, expensive and complex licence negotiations, and, particularly, the difficulty of disseminating the information to a variety of users.[21] The Office of Public Sector Information has also commented on the "strict" Ordnance Survey policy of issuing "specific use" licences:

    the exact use to which information is to be put is carefully established, and included in the contractual terms. Any additional use for another purpose entails an application for a further licence… it comes across as restrictive in interpretation and practice.[22]

In practice, this may result in organisations being unable to obtain straightforwardly the information they need to carry out their own public functions. Perhaps the single most striking example of frustration with the difficulties of using data obtained from Ordnance Survey comes from its former parent, the Ministry of Defence, which requires "Geospatial Information [for] the armed forces in support of operations, exercises and training both in the UK and overseas." While recognising Ordnance Survey as a "world class organisation in the field", the Ministry of Defence told us that it had recently "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".[23] Defra, the Local Government Association and the Local Government Data Unit for Wales have expressed similar frustration about the difficulty of obtaining data and the restrictions on the use to which they may be put in, respectively, sharing information on registered common land, naming and numbering new streets, and mapping local responses to foot and mouth disease.[24] We are concerned that public sector organisations charged with carrying out vital public services sometimes find Ordnance Survey's licensing conditions too complex and inflexible. Even the Ministry of Defence, whose predecessor created the national mapping agency two centuries ago, is uncertain about what use it may make of the data it buys from Ordnance Survey. This is a serious indictment of the standards of clarity achieved in the licences Ordnance Survey offers some customers.

22. Ordnance Survey accepts that its licensing conditions can create difficulties and has worked over the past year in particular—largely as a result of the Office of Fair Trading's report on the commercial use of public information and a subsequent re-drafting, agreed with the Department for Communities and Local Government, of Ordnance Survey's Public Task—to simplify the licences and remove restrictions. It notes that its licences contain "a degree of formality and standardisation", because it wishes to avoid discrimination against individual licensees. It points out, too, that this is sometimes as inconvenient to Ordnance Survey as it is to potential licensees.[25]

23. Ordnance Survey needs, however, to avoid giving the impression that it is imposing restrictive licences for commercial advantage, a perception that is clearly widely shared. The regulator, OPSI, for example, while verifying Ordnance Survey as a member of the Information Fair Trading Scheme (IFTS), pointed out that "The reputation of Ordnance Survey in the marketplace is not uniformly favourable. It is sometimes seen as obstructive and slow. There is some substance to this impression."[26] Ordnance Survey accepts that its licences are "more complex than in a normal sale of goods transaction … because they concern the licensing of intellectual property rights."[27] It defends robustly its right to control its licensing regime carefully, however:

    If Ordnance Survey were to allow unfettered sharing of its data (which is the ideal for Government customers) then either the prices charged for the data would need to significantly increase (to reflect the much broader use that is being licensed) or the value of its intellectual property rights to the taxpayer would quickly diminish.[28]

24. Ordnance Survey's recently redrawn Public Task requires it to "maximise both the accessibility of, and the broader benefits arising from the use of the data" it holds.[29] This requires the agency to be as flexible as possible in drawing up licences. The Department for Communities and Local Government believes that Ordnance Survey "actively encourages the use of its data by third parties".[30] The Public Task requires it to "make the content of the datasets widely available in forms that are accessible to customers of all types for wider benefit."[31] It is incumbent on Ordnance Survey, particularly given its special status within the geographical information market, to make the licences it offers partners and competitors as simple, cost-effective and appropriate to the user as possible. It is essential that licences contain conditions that fit the needs of individual partners and competitors while yet protecting Ordnance Survey's duty to guard and right to use the intellectual property it holds.

The regulatory framework

25. In the five years or so since the 2002 inquiry, the regulatory framework surrounding Ordnance Survey, and other public service information holders and providers, has changed significantly through the introduction of the Re-use of Public Service Information regulations, the introduction by the Office of Public Sector Information of the Information Fair Trading Scheme, and the creation of the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI).

26. The Office of Public Sector Information operates the Information Fair Trading Scheme, to which Ordnance Survey is a signatory and which sets principles of fairness and transparency in the use and re-use of public service information. This means that "OPSI acts as Ordnance Survey's regulator, monitoring their licensing and information trading activities under IFTS."[32] OPSI also arbitrates in disputes between public service information holders and partners or competitors. As the Department for Communities and Local Government notes, "Anyone dissatisfied with the way Ordnance Survey responds to requests for access to information and data may complain to OPSI."[33] The Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information in turn provides an appeal body for those dissatisfied with OPSI's rulings.

27. It is an encouraging sign of how the framework has operated that Ordnance Survey has faced only two formal complaints, although OPSI reports that a number of other challenges and complaints were raised without leading to formal investigation and that "Facilitation and mediation between the parties involved has usually served to identify areas where practices can be improved."[34] OPSI ruled in favour of Ordnance Survey on one of those formal complaints. On the second, it found for Ordnance Survey on some parts and for the complainant, Intelligent Addressing Ltd, on others. In broad terms, Intelligent Addressing sought to develop a National Land Property Gazetteer, in co-operation with local government, the Local Government Association and the Improvement and Development Agency, to provide local government with detailed local addressing information. To do this, it required access to information supplied by Ordnance Survey and came into direct competition with Ordnance Survey's AddressPoint product. The substance of the complaint related to the cost and complexity of licence conditions, which Intelligent Addressing claimed made it unable to market its product at a competitive price. OPSI later reported that Ordnance Survey had addressed the five recommendations it made for changes in its practice arising from that case and that it was satisfied with the actions taken.[35]

28. Select committees do not investigate individual complaints, and the details of the case involving Intelligent Addressing and Ordnance Survey do not concern us. What is of concern, however, is what happened next. Both Intelligent Addressing and Ordnance Survey chose to seek a review by the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information of the OPSI decision, the upshot of which was that APPSI ruled that the Re-use of Public Service Information regulations did not in fact cover many of the matters on which OPSI had ruled. In sum, APPSI ruled that AddressPoint was not part of OS's Public Task and was not therefore covered by the regulations. APPSI also suggested that this meant that the regulations do not achieve what the Government intends them to achieve, recommending "that the Government, as a matter of priority, should re-assess the extent to which the regulations and Government policy on PSI are aligned."[36]

29. In short, in the only significant case to date involving Ordnance Survey and the Re-use of Public Service Information regulations, the final review body ruled that the complaint had been largely invalid from the beginning. This left both Ordnance Survey and Intelligent Addressing out of pocket and back at square one after 18 months of complaint, negotiation, report, appeal and decision. The Locus Association, of which Intelligent Addressing is a member (it is, indeed, chaired, by the Chief Executive of Intelligent Addressing) told us: "Whatever process of arbitration is chosen it should be quick, low cost, transparent, fair, properly enforceable and enforced. This is not the case at present."[37] The Office of Fair Trading has also expressed concern at the ruling by the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information that the Re-use of Public Service Information regulations apply more narrowly than OPSI had thought and than appears to have been intended by the Government.[38] The Association for Geographic Information told us that APPSI's ruling had "deepened the confusion for AGI members over the position of OS as a public sector information provider."[39] The Local Government Association and the Improvement and Development Agency also identified a lack of clarity between the roles of OPSI as regulator and APPSI as appeal body and the fit between the Information Fair Trading Scheme and the regulations. Confusion clearly exists over the extent to which the Re-use of Public Service Information regulations apply to Ordnance Survey activities, and this confusion arises from the blurred distinction between its public and private tasks. It is plainly nonsensical that both Ordnance Survey and a private company should have spent 18 months and considerable sums of money on an arbitration process that returned them to square one. We endorse the view of the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information that the Government should urgently assess the degree to which the Government's objectives are met by the current regulations.

30. The Office of Public Sector Information has since responded to the ruling by suggesting that it is too restrictive. The Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information ruled that Ordnance Survey's AddressPoint product was not covered by the Re-use of Public Service Information Regulations because it contained base address information obtained originally from Royal Mail, and that Ordnance Survey had therefore "added value" to the product before marketing it rather than its simply being base geographical information held by a public service information holder. OPSI takes the view that "Ordnance Survey's public task extends beyond maintaining its fundamental geographic databases." OPSI also believes that APPSI's "more restrictive view, would remove a considerable amount of important public sector information from the scope of the PSI Regulations."[40] The strict interpretation taken by the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information of the Re-use of Public Service Information regulations highlights a potential flaw affecting the intention behind those regulations. Products to which Ordnance Survey has clearly added value and which it markets commercially should properly be part of its private operation. The base information Ordnance Survey holds as the national mapping agency should, however, be as easily and widely available as possible, allowing for cost recovery. The regulations as currently drafted may be inadequate in ensuring that base information is easily accessible, and we recommend that the Government seek urgently to amend the regulations where deficiencies are identified.

Geographic Information Panel

31. In 2002 our predecessor Committee recommended the creation of a panel of at least three advisers to inform Government on geographic information issues, suggesting that the Chair of the AGI, the Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey and a private sector representative might provide the correct mix of expertise.[41] Until then, Ordnance Survey had been exclusive adviser to the Government. In April 2005, the Government created the Geographic Information Panel, which now contains 13 members from governmental and non-governmental organisations and is currently chaired by the Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey. The panel is intended to provide Ministers with strategic advice about the use of geographic information. Its main task is the development of a geographical information strategy for the UK, which involves, among much else, developing the use of digital information and compliance with European Union standards and directives. A draft strategy has been submitted to Ministers.[42] Ordnance Survey continues to provide routine advice separately.

32. The panel is comparatively new, and until the strategy, its first major project, is published, judgment may be reserved on its effectiveness. Questions have been raised, however, about the balance of interests it represents, focusing both on the role of the Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey as its chair and on the mix of private and public sector interests concerned.

33. The panel's 13 members are: the AGI; the Association of British Insurers (ABI); the e-Government Unit at the Cabinet Office; the Demographic User Group; CLG; Defra; the Ministry of Defence; the Office for National Statistics; Ordnance Survey; Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland; the Registers of Scotland; the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS); and the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers. Most of these organisations represent governmental interests, local and national. Four broadly represent private sector interests, although both the AGI and RICS represent both private and public sector bodies.

34. There is some concern that the panel is over-weighted towards governmental interests. The Locus Association argues that only the Association of British Insurers and the Demographic User Group unambiguously represent the private sector, while Intelligent Addressing suggests academic and local authority interests could also be better represented.[43] The AGI, as a member of the panel, identifies a lack of scientific expertise, and is supported in that by the LGA and IDEA.[44] The Ministry of Defence, another organisation on the panel, also argues that business interests are under-represented, particularly practical users of geographic information.[45]

35. Both Ordnance Survey and the Department for Communities and Local Government consider that the panel's membership is sufficiently balanced, with each noting that four of the 13 members have a specific remit to represent the private sector. This proportion is, of course, broadly in line with that suggested by our predecessor Committee in 2002, and it seems broadly proportionate to have similar levels of representation from the principal providers of geographic information and the public and private sectors. CLG also points out that the Government can at any time seek advice from other interested parties beyond the panel. The range of governmental organisations represented also covers both the providers of information—Ordnance Survey itself and the Northern Irish equivalent body and Scottish Registers—and those who use it—four Government Departments, the Office for National Statistics and a representative of local government. We commend the Government for creating a Geographic Information Panel to provide a wide range of advice and views on a national geographic information strategy. We believe that the panel represents a proper range of interests, but recommend that the Government consider whether relevant expertise among the scientific and academic sectors might also be sought.

36. Our predecessor Committee made no recommendation on who should chair the panel. Since its creation, it has been chaired by the Director-General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey, and Ordnance Survey has also provided its secretariat. Given the unease in some quarters about the distinction between Ordnance Survey's public and private roles, the question has inevitably arisen of whether this may represent either an unfair advantage or a conflict of interest. The Locus Association, for examples, asks: "Is it reasonable to expect a Director of a commercial organisation to give advice to Ministers which may be contrary to the interests of his or her own organisation?"[46] The AGI suggests that chairmanship of the panel should rotate.[47]

37. There is considerable recognition that Ordnance Survey's expertise, market position and continuing role as routine adviser to the Government on geographical issues make it an obvious leading player on the panel. There is also support within the panel for the chairmanship of the present Director-General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey: Vanessa Lawrence planned to stand down last April but was reappointed on the recommendation of the panel's membership.[48] The LGA and IDEA note the value of having a chief adviser who has "a thorough grounding in the issues of geographic information on the one hand, and the policy framework within which government operates on the other."[49] The Office for National Statistics concurs.[50] The question of who chairs the Geographic Information Panel is properly a matter for the panel itself. None the less, while the expertise and unique commercial and governmental roles of the Director-General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey make the holder of that post an obvious contender for the job, the chairmanship need not and should not be held ex officio by that postholder.

National Interest Mapping Services Agreement

38. The Government announced in October 2006 that the seven-year-old National Interest Mapping Services Agreement would end, leaving Ordnance Survey unique among public service information holders in receiving no funding from central Government. NIMSA had provided funding largely for the mapping of economically non-viable parts of Great Britain, principally in rural areas. Ordnance Survey initially announced that this would result in some rural areas being mapped less frequently than previously, although it committed itself to maintaining accurate mapping for the purposes of the emergency services. It has since announced that it expects to continue mapping rural geography to a level similar to that achieved under NIMSA, but that it expects this to cost it around an additional £1 million a year.[51] We welcome Ordnance Survey's commitment to maintain rural mapping services following cessation of the National Interest Mapping Services Agreement. We note Ordnance Survey's intention to fulfil this task without receiving Government funding as an example of how the agency maintains its public function in spite of the commercial framework within which it works.

39. CLG notes that "all primary features, such as residential, industrial or transport infrastructure developments, will continue to be surveyed within six months of completion. A varying two-to-ten year national programme of cyclic rural revision will maintain all secondary features … the most remote areas still being revised at least once every ten years."[52] This appears to answer concerns raised by Defra, the Ministry of Defence and the Local Government Association and Improvement and Development Agency that rural and other uneconomic mapping might be adversely affected by the decision to end NIMSA.[53] We recommend that the Department for Communities and Local Government commission at an appropriate future point a study on the long-term impact of the decision to end the agreement to ensure that the quality of the mapping of rural and other economically unattractive areas is maintained.

1   Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, Ordnance Survey, 10th Report of Session 2001-02, HC 481, para 20 Back

2   Communities and Local Government Committee, DCLG Annual Report 2006, 3rd Report of Session 2006-07, HC 106, Ev105 Back

3   Ev 73 and 74 Back

4   HC 481 (2001-02), Ev 1 Back

5   Ordnance Survey, Annual Report and Accounts for 2005-06, July 2006, p. 20 Back

6   HC Deb, 6 June 2007, col. 21WS Back

7   Ev 76 to 84 Back

8   HC 481 (2001-02), para 13 Back

9   HC 481 (2001-02), para 20 Back

10   HC 481 (2001-02), para 2 Back

11   Ev 74 Back

12   Ev 8 Back

13   Ev 9 Back

14   Office of Fair Trading, The Commercial Use of Public Information, December 2006  Back

15   Ev 74 Back

16   Department for Trade and Industry, The Commercial Use of Public Information: Government Response to the Office of Fair Trading Study, June 2007, p. 9 Back

17   Ev 9 Back

18   Ev 75 Back

19   Ev 9 Back

20   Office of Fair Trading, The Commercial Use of Public Information, December 2006, p. 79 Back

21   Ev 41 to 47 Back

22   Office of Public Sector Information, Information Fair Trader Scheme; Re-verification of commitment to information fair trading: Ordnance Survey, October 2005, p. 12 Back

23   Ev 46 Back

24   Ev 41 to 43, Ev 62, and Ev 66 Back

25   Ev 5 Back

26   Office of Public Sector Information, Information Fair Trading Scheme; Re-verification of commitment to information fair trading: Ordnance Survey, October 2005, p. 5 Back

27   Ev 75 Back

28   Ev 77 Back

29   Ev 77 Back

30   Ev 71 Back

31   Ev 76 Back

32   Ev 7 Back

33   Ev 69 Back

34   Ev 6 Back

35   OPSI feedback on OS response to IA complaint report, 6 March 2007, Back

36   Review board of APPSI , Report in relation to requests by Intelligent Addressing Limited and Ordnance Survey to review certain recommendations made in the Report of the Office of Public Sector Information of 13 July 2006 relating to a complaint by Intelligent Addressing Limited (SO 42/8/4), 30 April 2007, p. 16 Back

37   Ev 27 Back

38   Ev 16 Back

39   Ev 34 Back

40   Office of Public Sector Information, Review of the Office of Public Sector Information's Investigation of a Complaint, annexe D to OPSI's memorandum  Back

41   HC 481 (2002-03), para 25 Back

42   HC Deb, 9 January 2008, Col 554W Back

43   Ev 29 and Ev 22 Back

44   Ev 34 and Ev 63 Back

45   Ev 46 Back

46   Ev 30 Back

47   Ev 34 Back

48   HC Deb, 9 January 2008, col. 554W Back

49   Ev 64 Back

50   Ev 45 Back

51   Ev 3 Back

52   Ev 70 Back

53   Ev 42, Ev 47 and Ev 64 Back

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