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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320 - 338)



  320. So what kind of savings are you talking about?
  (Ms Keeble) There will be established arrangements for the pricing and you will not have to have the kind of discussions that are talked about there. I would also hope that it would lead to more government services and agencies actually taking up and using OS data.

  321. When the Ordnance Survey told us that delay in arranging such a straightforward system arose from difficulties in negotiating for central funding, could you tell us why that was so?
  (Ms Keeble) I cannot offhand. Do you want to deal with that?
  (Mr Capell) I will try and deal with that. The new Pan Government SLA will come in from 2 April as a pilot. It has not been easy to come to an agreement between our department, the Treasury and the Office for e.Envoy on funding the gap between the current amounts of money which are paid under a range of Service Level Agreements and the increased amounts that Ordnance Survey reasonably want in order to open up all of their data to the whole of central government. We have an agreement with them that a pilot will be put in place on 2 April and work will continue then, vigorously, to put in a long-term, established system.

  322. You will then be able to prove to the Treasury that they have got a genuine case. Is what you are really saying?
  (Mr Capell) Yes.

  323. You will then give us some indication as you go on, perhaps, in a short note.
  (Mr Capell) Yes.

  Mrs Ellma

  324. Some witnesses have said to us that there is a potential conflict of interest because the Director General of Ordnance Survey is also Geographic Adviser to the Government. Do you accept that?
  (Ms Keeble) There is an issue about that and that comes up again with the regulation and governance issue, which I would expect to be dealt with, at least, as part of the Stage 2 review. I am aware that there is criticism of the OS role. OS, I have to say, has always been the national mapping agency and, therefore, it would be logical for it to have that role. Increasingly, given the changes that are taking place, there is a need to look at it. I have to say I am not quite clear who else could do it.

  325. Does that mean that you are unwilling to look at alternatives?
  (Ms Keeble) No, it does not. It just means that if there is going to be an alternative suggested there is going to have to be some very careful thinking about what that might be—what kind of a person or agency or function that might be.

  326. Are there negotiations going on at the moment between the Government and Ordnance Survey on what constitutes a definitive national spatial data infrastructure?
  (Ms Keeble) I do not know. Is there?
  (Mr Capell) Yes.

  327. Could you tell us what the issues are? Or would you be willing to make details of those discussions available?
  (Mr Capell) I am happy to supply a note. In brief, there are great benefits to the country if there is a joined up, single, definitive data-set which includes land and addresses—property information and address information—in one data-set. That does not exist in a perfect stage today. Ordnance Survey, together with a number of other government bodies and with our department are working towards creating that. That is necessary to produce the benefits in data-systems and public services that we want to see.

  Mrs Dunwoody: You can give us a short note on that, Mr Capell. Thank you.

  Mrs Ellma

  328. Why did the previous Director General of Ordnance Survey resign?
  (Ms Keeble) I think he found himself in a personal difficulty and he took the decision very suddenly to resign.

  329. Was it something entirely personal and not to do with the conflicts in the job?
  (Ms Keeble) I think he had particular personal reasons for doing that, which I probably should not go into here.

  Chris Graylin

  330. How do the Ordnance Survey's electronic systems link into the National Land Use Database?
  (Mr Capell) There are two parts to the National Land Use Database. One is a collection of brownfield sites from local authorities, which benefit from being linked to Ordnance Survey maps, and another part of it is the wider, total land use data-set, and that is being taken forward between our department and Ordnance Survey as a possible future layer as part of their master map system.

  331. How comprehensive do you think the National Land Use Database actually is?
  (Mr Capell) The previously developed land part of the National Land Use Database was collected comprehensively in 1998 and is being completed now for 2001. A new National Land Use Database is something which is still being researched. I cannot when say it is going to be complete now, we are researching how to do it.

  332. Obviously brownfield sites are particularly topical and of importance at the moment. What has the comparison been between the work that has been done through the Ordnance Survey in looking at the availability of brownfield sites and the information that has been coming in from local authorities? Do those two marry up or is there a great discrepancy?
  (Mr Capell) No, there is no discrepancy at all. Ordnance Survey have been partners with the Department, IDeA and English Partnerships in trying to make a success of this project to create an improved National Land Use Database. The mapping element is a key part of that.

  Mrs Dunwood

  333. Can I ask you, finally, if there is a possibility of Ordnance Survey developing a website for electioneering, with all-year-round access to data?
  (Ms Keeble) I think the problem there, as I said previously, is about the impact of the competition legislation. They keep their maps up, but some of the data comes off. It is put on, as I understand it, only when there is an election or by-election. If they did otherwise (because it was provided free-of-charge, as I understand it, at the last election) they would run into real problems for under-cutting some of the private sector.

  334. Even if, in fact, that information was restricted to Members and their staff?
  (Ms Keeble) Members of their staff?

  335. No. It was offered, as you know, to people throughout, and that was all candidates, but as you know throughout the year there will be all sorts of usages that will be obvious to Members of Parliament. Why should that be a difficulty if that was a continuing service?
  (Ms Keeble) Basically, we ought to be buying it. It was provided at the elections, it was enormously useful but they do have to be careful about their pricing policies because otherwise they can find themselves in difficulty with the Competition Act. That is my understanding.

  336. Can we ask the department to look at whether there is a way of using a restricted website which could provide some information? There will be enormous differences in the amount of use made of the data between election times and normal times.
  (Ms Keeble) Can I just say, presumably they could do something like provide it as a service that you can buy, like you can buy anything else on the internet. That would mean you would have to pay for it, like we have to pay for so many other things.

  337. I see. I think what the Committee would find helpful is to have some idea of the timetable of your examination of these two alternatives at Stage 2.
  (Ms Keeble) I think I covered that in my statement, that we expect to have Stage 2 completed by May and a decision made before the summer recess. So that is not long.

  338. No, I think that is quite a full schedule! Minister, I think that has all been very interesting. Doubtless we shall come back to you and we should expect a number of notes. Thank you very much indeed.
  (Ms Keeble) Thanks.

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