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


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 279)

TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002

MS SALLY KEEBLE MP, MR KEN SWAN AND MR PETER CAPELL

  260. I am trying to get some principles here as to whether this is a core activity and, therefore, whether it should be something that in a sense is subsidised because good planning is something that the country wants or is it something that should be covered as an economic charge?
  (Ms Keeble) I think the difficulty with quite a number of the pricing issues is that it is going to be governed by competition legislation and that is obviously going to put severe limits on what can be provided free and what has to be charged for. That has been the major issue for OS, as indeed it has been for other government services.

  261. I understand it is the problem, but I am looking to you for the solutions.
  (Ms Keeble) Well, they would obviously have to come up with a pricing strategy, but depending on who is getting the information and how it is going to be used, it would either have to be charged for or it would have to be free, but that would be within the framework of the competition legislation.

  262. So in terms of the pricing strategy, should it actually pay for the printing and the distribution of the map or should it make some contribution to the collection of the data?
  (Ms Keeble) The collection of the data is the absolute core bit of OS's work. As the national mapping agency, it is the collection of the data which is absolutely core.

  263. Yes, but once that core activity has taken place, when you use that data, should that core activity be paid for by the taxpayer or should it be paid for by some of the charges that come back through some of the ways in which that information is provided either to companies or to the general public through the maps which are sold?
  (Ms Keeble) The maps which are sold I think we have dealt with because they are self-financing.

  264. They are not self-financing. You have just told us that they make a loss.
  (Ms Keeble) They are under one particular regime, and if people go and buy them, then they go and buy them. If people are getting a particular map of a particular area for a planning application, the pricing structure for that would have to be determined by all of the regulations and legislation which govern what OS does. It cannot undercut the market; it has to operate within that very clearly and if government services or anyone else does not, they obviously face a great deal of pressure.

  265. Now, if we have got things like the Landplan and we add on to it, if you like, a pictorial aerial view over it, is that still part of the core work of the Ordnance Survey?
  (Ms Keeble) I think in a climate where the technology is changing, yes, I think it is. Clearly time has moved on since people went out and surveyed in person the countryside and there are different types of information and products used, not just by the public, but also, importantly, by the Government and I think that the production of an imagery layer is an important development and I think it could certainly be considered as part of the core activity.

  266. So the aerial map layer that the Ordnance Survey is producing is done in one way, but how does that differ from the way that Getmapping have been doing their aerial survey?
  (Ms Keeble) I have to say I cannot answer for Getmapping.

  267. I am not asking you to answer for them, but there are two ways, as I understand it, of doing aerial survey work and I am just asking you if you know the difference between the two.
  (Ms Keeble) In what way? OS has always done aerial survey work as part of its data collection, particularly in rural areas, and in that sense it is part of its production process. The production of an imagery layer for OS's database is obviously a different process. Now, I do not know what Getmapping is doing. I have been obviously told and shown a fair bit about what OS is doing and it seems to me that the plans that they have got are well within the range of what they should be doing as part of their core activities. Further, I think it is extremely important that they are able to develop their services because that has a direct cut-across into the planning and provision of public services and we need them to be operating at the sort of leading edge of the mapping world.

  268. The problem of course is that the world is round and it is quite difficult to get a round surface on to a flat piece of paper, but perhaps we will leave that. Are you sure that the core activities of the Ordnance Survey are well defined?
  (Ms Keeble) Well, we will certainly be looking at those issues as we look through stage two of the Review, but I think their basic task, as the national mapping agency, has been clear for an extremely long time.

Mrs Ellman

  269. The Director General of Ordnance Survey has told us that Ordnance Survey is not a monopoly, whereas our witnesses have told us that it is. What is the Government's view?
  (Ms Keeble) That it is not. Anyone here could set up in business in competition with Ordnance Survey.

Sir Paul Beresford

  270. Your not-so-short introduction mentioned Ordnance Survey right the way through but there was no mention of the commercial partners. Where do you see their relationship with Ordnance Survey?
  (Ms Keeble) Their relationship is to, if you like, provide the applications using the data which Ordnance Survey provides.

  271. You draw a boundary at that point on Ordnance Survey?
  (Ms Keeble) Yes. I think one of the key issues is also what role they can best play and where they work out their future—

  272. By "they" you mean Ordnance Survey or the commercial partners?
  (Ms Keeble) Ordnance Survey. I do not answer for the private sector partners that they have. I think that the way in which they have gone about their business, where they have got the maps but other than that they have developed products or they have set up a series of partnerships with commercial partners who, by and large, develop the applications, it seems to me is a much more successful way, both for them and for the private sector—for them because they can concentrate on the core activities of doing the mapping and developing the data, and also it then leaves the commercial sector to do the commercial applications.

Mrs Dunwoody

  273. You are defining the core in a very narrow way. They get the data in, they prepare it, they use it to produce a very high-quality product but then there comes a sort of Chinese wall when other people must then build on that.
  (Ms Keeble) They have their digital database, obviously, but in terms of the commercial activities they do not engage in those. It seems to me they have been successful in developing a range of partnerships with companies who buy the data from them and then use it onwards in a whole variety of applications. I think that has been very, very successful.

Chris Grayling

  274. Not if they end up in court with them.
  (Ms Keeble) If you want to deal with the court case I will happily—

Chairman

  275. No, we do not want to deal with the court case. We do want to have the point that, if you like, the danger of not having clarity is that you do end up in court. In that sense we want to deal with it but we do not want to deal with the details of the court case.
  (Ms Keeble) Okay, I understand that. Can I say that I just wanted to make sure that you understand I am aware of the background to that. There is always going to be an issue, given competition legislation, of different sections of what we would term public sector ending up in court under competition legislation. We know that Companies House had a reference to the Office of Fair Trading, and I think it is largely about its internet services as well. So there is always that issue there. I think what has been important is that the public sector services have got a great deal to do in the way of using the geographic information to improve services. We have only done a fraction of what we should have done and I would like to see that personally very much extended across government.

Mrs Dunwoody

  276. Is that a core function or is that a function that could easily be done by the private sector?
  (Ms Keeble) What to develop across government?

  277. Yes.
  (Ms Keeble) I think it is for government services to look at applying and using the information that OS provides for their own interests. They could go out and contract with the private sector; OS provides a very high-quality product and is working across government. Government also, of course, pays for those services as well. I refer to the Pan Government agreement that starts this April. So I think that OS has done very well to change from 1791 when it started, to keep at the leading edge of mapping, to put itself in a position where it is a very powerful force in the market and, also, to build partnerships which have generated the finance and which have retained its position, from which the public services have benefited very greatly.

Mrs Ellman

  278. If the user or the private sector have a problem with Ordnance Survey, where can they go for redress?
  (Ms Keeble) For regulation?

  279. Yes.
  (Ms Keeble) As I mentioned, there is the competition legislation which is obviously very important. There is the Ombudsman—


 
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