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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 194)

TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002

MR SPENCER CHAINEY AND MR MARK LINEHAN

  180. What does that mean for the apparent conflict between the public service remit of Ordnance Survey and commercial activities?
  (Mr Linehan) We are concerned, as it moves towards greater commercialisation, that there is the potential for Ordnance Survey to focus on those activities that generate revenue and produce income possibly at the expense of what we would refer to as the national interest activities, the core role of producing accurate up-to-date mapping for the country.
  (Mr Chainey) And utilising its dominant position that it has in increasing its revenue and causing conflict with the industry that is already providing those services.

  181. Do you see problems with cross-subsidy between the commercial and public interest organisation activities?
  (Mr Linehan) We have no evidence that there is or would be but, clearly, if the money Ordnance Survey receives to deliver a public service function were used to deliver its commercial activities that would be a concern; but we have no evidence or believe that is the case, or indeed that it would be the case.

  182. What would your views be on privatising Ordnance Survey, if there was to be a full privatisation?
  (Mr Chainey) The problem with privatising the organisation would be: would it still carry out certain national interest requirements, such as rural mapping, where there would not necessarily be a commercial return in carrying out those activities? Those activities would then not necessarily be carried out but simply looking at providing products which would sell more.

Chris Grayling

  183. Can I turn you to the issue of Land Registry, much debated in recent times, and has been changed fairly rapidly. Is there actually a logical case for bringing the Land Registry and Ordnance Survey together into one organisation and working much more closely with maps and databases?
  (Mr Linehan) I do not think we would propose or support total merge of Land Registry and Ordnance Survey; but certainly in a number of countries, Commonwealth countries and a number of European countries, the Land Registry is responsible for the large scale mapping and that is funded through taxation or registration charges; and that produces good quality, large scale mapping of property and land which is fit for purpose, and which is then used by others for other purposes. That might be a way of funding large scale mapping through that particular function.
  (Mr Chainey) It is merging certain functions carried out by both organisations at the moment.

  184. There would certainly be a logic to it if you are looking at a particular site, the ability to look at an online Ordnance Survey map. There would be a logic in bringing those functions together.
  (Mr Linehan) Yes, there would be a logic. Our disappointment with the Quinquennial Review of Ordnance Survey stage one and also with the Land Registry is that it did not give such consideration to this as an option, and we would request that it is given consideration.

  185. You said you thought there was a conflict of interest arising from the Ordnance Survey Director-General's role as geographic advisor to government, and that causes some conflict. Why is that?
  (Mr Linehan) In two areas really: if an organisation has commercial interests then it has to bring into question the impartiality of that organisation advising government on matters geographic. The point I made earlier was that Ordnance Survey, whilst a large organisation generating a significant amount of revenue and producing quality mapping of the country, is still only a small part of the total geographic information sector, and there are lots of other people doing lots of other things which presumably the government advisor on geographic information would be asked to advise on. Our view is that it is coming from too narrow a scope.

  186. You also talked about the issue of transparency of discussions that take place. Does that not cause a problem of commercial confidentiality? The Ordnance Survey is effectively competing as well as serving. You have suggested that discussions between government and Ordnance Survey should take place in the public arena. Is there not an issue of confidentiality?
  (Mr Linehan) If Ordnance Survey is developing commercial products—

Chairman

  187. What you are saying is that you want discussions between government and Ordnance Survey to be public and transparent?
  (Mr Linehan) Yes.

  188. If that happened, is there not a problem that the commercial information the Ordnance Survey has leaks out and damages its commercial position?
  (Mr Linehan) Yes, there is a danger and that is why the question of the role Ordnance Survey has in the commercial side of things is brought into question.

  189. Almost everything it does has a commercial side to it, does it not, so with almost everything that is in discussion with the government there is a commercial element to that?
  (Mr Linehan) That is true, and clearly boundaries have to be drawn around what conversations can be had in public and what conversations cannot. There are some fundamental conversations that take place which are around what is required by the nation and what is in the public interest that need to take place in the public arena.
  (Mr Chainey) 14 per cent of Ordnance Survey's income comes from the taxpayer and 36 per cent from central and local government, so there is obviously a need there for some transparency.

Chris Grayling

  190. You also made reference to the resignation of a former Director-General of Ordnance Survey as "turf wars". Could you tell us a bit more about that?
  (Mr Linehan) That was before my time as Director of the Association. At the point of resignation of the Director-General of Ordnance Survey at the end of 1999, since then within the industry there has been a degree of turmoil and difficult relationships. Both local government and the Ordnance Survey have made significant progress in healing the wounds and it is not a significant factor today, but it has hindered progress over recent times.

Ms King

  191. In your memorandum you recommend the establishment of an independent Geographic Commission. What role would it have? Would it have a regulatory role to help resolve some of the conflicts around Ordnance Survey's boundaries?
  (Mr Linehan) I think there are two functions that are required by something independent of Ordnance Survey: one is regulation in the role of an Ombudsman; and the other is the role of advising government on geographic information. Those two roles can be carried out by the same body but they are distinct roles.

  192. Can you tell us a bit about what Ordnance Survey is doing in terms of developing new technology and whether you think it is funding that development appropriately?
  (Mr Chainey) First of all, it is more for Ordnance Survey to actually voice what they are doing in making use of new technology.

Chairman

  193. Do you think they are doing a good job? Are they doing the things that they ought to be doing, given the new technologies that are available?
  (Mr Chainey) They are moving in the right direction, yes, with developing their geographic base.

  194. You do not think that is breaking into the areas of commercial competition?
  (Mr Chainey) There are certain products within that, yes, which have been raised as issues, like the imagery information.

  Chairman: On that note, can I thank you very much for your evidence.





 
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