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

Memorandum by Ordnance Survey (OS 22)


  1.  As Great Britain's National Mapping Agency, Ordnance Survey is responsible for creating and maintaining the "master-map" of Great Britain from which others, such as our customers and partners, derive benefit. From this enormous and highly-detailed database, which contains some 400 million geographical features, it produces and markets a wide range of digital map data and paper maps for business, leisure, educational and administrative use. OS MasterMapTM, Ordnance Survey's brand new product offering, represents an entirely new concept in digital map data, identifying each feature on the British landscape by a numerical code. OS MasterMapTM will give Ordnance Survey's customers and partners increased flexibility in choosing precisely the data they need.

  2.  Ordnance Survey data is used by a very wide range of public bodies, from administering land and property ownership to locating suitable derelict land for housebuilding; from identifying areas of deprivation to planning new access to the countryside; and from controlling the flow of urban traffic to helping the police detect crime pattern to catch offenders. Its uses in the private sector are also substantial, ranging from targeting marketing effort to calculating insurance risks and from managing property portfolios to developing both in-car and hand-held navigation systems. Approximately 5,000 changes are made to the database everyday reflecting the ever changing landscape and these changes are fed daily through to customers within 24 hours of collection. Around 75 per cent of its business is in digital data, but it is perhaps still best known by the public for its various series of paper-based leisure maps.

  3.  Although Ordnance Survey's turnover is in the order of £100 million, an independent study (Oxford Economic Research Associates, 1999) has indicated that its data already underpins around £100 billion of Gross Domestic Product across both the public and private sectors. An ambitious e-strategy is currently being implemented to enhance the delivery of its services to customers and help grow the business, by encouraging customers to make greater use of our data, in line with Government policies. This is part of an over-arching vision that, with its partners, Ordnance Survey will be the content provider of choice for location-based information in the new information economy.

  4.  Ordnance Survey's statutory status is that it is a Government Department, Executive Agency and Trading Fund that is responsible for the surveying and mapping of Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). It is not responsible for Northern Ireland. It reports to Parliament through Ministers in the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions. Established in 1791, there were serving military officers in Ordnance Survey until 1983. It became an Executive Agency in 1990 and a Trading Fund in 1999. Turnover in 2000-01 was £99.6 million with a trading surplus of £8.1 million. The Trading Fund has a target to generate an average of 9 per cent Return on Capital Employed (ROCE) per annum over the period April 1999 to 2004. Investment plans for 2001 to 2003 project a trading loss in 2001-02 and a breakeven scenario in 2002-03. The Corporate Plan 2001-04 approved by Sally Keeble, DTLR Minister with responsibility for Ordnance Survey forecasts a return to trading profitability in 2003-04 and an average ROCE for the five years of just over 9 per cent.

  5.  The backgrounds of the Chief Executive, the Executive Directors and Non-Executive Directors include both public and private sector experience. In the last 18 months, the Chief Executive and three Directors have been recruited from the surveying, geographic information and associated industries.

  6.  In line with its drive to bring geographic information into mainstream information and its determination to take a leading role in e-business across the public private sector spectrum, Ordnance Survey is implementing an e-strategy that will benefit all its customers from the hill walker through all aspects of leisure, business and government to the global multinational companies and the central government policy makers.

  7.  The focus of Ordnance Survey business is data capture, data management, data enhancement, and data licensing and distribution with special national interest activity being directed to the maintenance of national cover of mapping series at large and medium scales. The phased withdrawal of the Pathfinder Series and its replacement with the more user-friendly Explorer Series is one example of Ordnance Survey's commitment to continuing its public interest role. Other examples include the introduction of the up-to-date LandPlan 1:10000 paper series offering coloured mapping nationwide at the largest single scale and the introduction of the free service for transforming Global Positioning System data to the National Grid.

  8.  Ordnance Survey is currently the subject of a Quinquennial Review which examines whether the output of a Government Agency is required at all, and if so recommends the most effective way of delivering that output. The announcement of the results of Stage 1 of that review is imminent, but has not yet been made public.


  9.  For many, the perception of Ordnance Survey is simply one of a publisher of high quality paper maps at scales of 1:50000 and 1:25000 or even one inch to the mile! The provision of these maps remains a fundamental part of Ordnance Survey business, but together these two national map series generate only 7.5 per cent of annual revenue.

  10.  The focus of Ordnance Survey's activity is on the maintenance, data integration and distribution of the "mastermap" of Great Britain. Urban data currently has a target that expects all topographic change on the ground to be in the database within 6 months. Urban surveying is accurate to 40 centimetres. National Interest Mapping Service Agreement (NIMSA) funding has helped to bring Rural data up-to-date such that important change within these areas is also recorded in the database within 6 months. Rural change of secondary importance is collected within a five year national cycle—a significant improvement on the previous 40 year cycle that was in place before the introduction of NIMSA. Rural mapping is also being improved to an accuracy of one metre, in most areas, with the survey quality in the rural towns targeted towards the higher Urban standard. Moorland primary change is surveyed within a six month target with secondary change being managed now within a 10 year cycle. These accuracy standards have been set as a result of customer demand, the widespread use of global positioning systems by customers and a business balance between costs and value-for-money pricing to customers. Ordnance Survey recognises that there is growing pressure from some users to increase the primary change targets towards three months with many users, such as Utilities and Local Authorities also expressing a strong need for planning information and builders and architects plans to be integrated into Ordnance Survey's database. There is a clear intention by Directors to drive down costs further and continue to improve the data content and up-to-dateness through increased use of technology and increased efficiency. By doing this the value for money of Ordnance Survey data and mapping will be enhanced.

  11.  Ordnance Survey employed over 4,500 staff in the 1970s. It now employs 1,850 as a result of harvesting the benefit of new technology and improved productivity. In particular, the use of new technology in data collection has reduced costs and facilitated a fully electronic update process. Four hundred and fifty surveyors, based in just under 70 offices throughout Great Britain from Truro to Inverness, download data from the master database in Southampton, survey new topographic detail directly on-screen or through electronic and satellite positioning equipment interfaced to the handheld surveying computer. The updated data can be transferred directly back to Southampton from where it is available almost immediately to customers and partners who take large scale data. The databases are now more up-to-date than at any other time in the 210 year history of Ordnance Survey. It is more cost effective to keep data up-to-date on a continuous revision basis than it is to let it get out of date and try and maintain on a national cyclic basis. Since the 1920s, Ordnance Survey has been at the forefront of using aerial photography for mapping in this country. Increasing use is now being made of advanced digital techniques that can derive more data from aerial photographs than ever before and, in many cases, can derive it more cost effectively than ground survey methods can.

  12.  New technology has also played a significant part in the printing and photographic aspects of Ordnance Survey business with the development of improved scanning techniques and the introduction of computer to plate technology. Further examples of new technology are given in Section 5 below.

  13.  In real terms Ordnance Survey costs are almost the same as they were 20 years ago, staff numbers are less than half of what they were, and the data and maps are substantially more up-to-date and more fit for purpose than they were then. Even only 20 years ago, large scale paper maps were only re-published in paper form when a pre-determined and significant amount of change had occurred on the ground within the area of the map. Now surveyed change is available to customers within 24 hours of survey.

  14.  Geographic information is one of the major beneficiaries of digital techniques. Annex A shows the trends in costs, revenues and staff numbers over the past 20 years.

  15.  Many staff have been re-trained to gain the new skills required in the information economy of today, but in recent years there has also been an increase in early retirement and external recruitment cycles. In an increasingly competitive business environment where there is pressure to price information as a commodity, it is certain that costs will have to reduce substantially if Ordnance Survey is to meet customer pricing expectations. Inevitably, if revenues do not hold up, permanent staff numbers will have to fall further in parallel with an increase in the use of contract staff as and when appropriate. Those staff who continue to be employed directly will have even more specialist skills than today and will expect increased reward packages. They will also understand the risk-reward equation better than many staff today.

  16.  Ordnance Survey staff are employed in seven Groups each headed by an Operational and Strategy Board member. Details are given in Annex B.

  17.  Account Managers within the Digital and Graphic Brands businesses are in constant contact with customers and partners to ensure that Ordnance Survey continues to understand customers' needs properly and to ensure investment is targeted at the right enhancements to the database. In addition to one-to-one contact with users, extensive consultation and market research is undertaken through seminars, focus groups and networking at all levels of the organisation.

  18.  Current plans for the enhancement of the database include the introduction of an imagery layer (to provide another complementary source of geographic information and to help with the identification of minor change), an improved height layer (to assist with planning in flood plain areas, together with building height and vegetation height to help with line of sight and environmental analysis) and a comprehensive land and property layer in association with HMLR, IdeA and Consignia, (to avoid duplication of effort, introduce consistent standards and improve the ease of sharing land and property data between interested parties). While Ordnance Survey will maintain Intellectual Property Rights for the Crown in the key layers within the database, it will seek to improve the quality of the data within these layers and introduce new national cover layers, as appropriate, in co-operation and partnership with public and private sector data suppliers.


  19.  It is generally accepted that 80 per cent of government data has a location based element. The potential to unlock the information within that data and integrate apparently disparate datasets across government can only be achieved through the use of a consistent and standard geographic framework across the public and private sectors. With its partners in the geographic information industry, Ordnance Survey has developed the Digital National Framework that provides such a standard.

    —  Data surveyed using co-ordinates derived from Global Positioning System satellites;

    —  Data related to addresses;

    —  Data referenced to land parcels references; and

    —  Data with co-ordinates in local referencing systems, for example,

  can all be integrated through the 400 million unique topographic identifiers (TOIDS) that Ordnance Survey has allocated to all the elements (lines, point features and polygons) within its recently launched OS MasterMap data.

  20.  The Government Policy Unit within Ordnance Survey is increasing our links within central government. Ordnance Survey is hoping to sign a Pan Government Service Level Agreement in the next 12 months that will make the Ordnance Survey digital data portfolio freely available across the whole spectrum of government departments, agencies and civil service bodies at a price that represents excellent value for money for organisations that would not otherwise venture down the geographic information road. A similar agreement is already in place with the local government community. The price charged to end users is a balance between value for money for the customer and a fair return to Ordnance Survey so that it can invest appropriately for the future and continue to supply data, information and services that meet customer requirements. Annual performance targets agreed with government mean that Ordnance Survey will continue to be run as an efficient and cost-effective business.

  21.  Ordnance Survey works with the Inter Government Group on Geographical Information (IGGI) to ensure that government needs are incorporated into future database enhancements.

  22.  Recent examples of the benefits that geographic information and digital mapping can bring to government include:

    —  Working with DTLR and the Office for National Statistics on Neighbourhood Renewal.

    —  Internal business savings to Property Advisor to the Civil Estate (PACE) as a result of using a geographic information system (GIS) to manage the Civil Estate.

    —  The use by DEFRA of Geographic Information Systems and the secondment of 120 Ordnance Survey staff to manage and contain many elements of the Foot and Mouth outbreak.

    —  Management of census data capture and data interpretation by the Office for National Statistics.

    —  Underpinning much of the activity of HM Land Registry who are themselves investing heavily in digitising their own records and associating them with Ordnance Survey data.

    —  The National Land Information System (NLIS), which is a recently launched initiative by central government, local government and the private sector to speed up the process of conveyancing and registration.

    —  National Land Use Database (NLUD), another public private initiative which currently provides a consistent source of information about "brown field" development sites. In the longer term, this database will be a national source of information about the nature of land and its use throughout Britain.


  23.  Catalogues and Price Lists showing the range of Ordnance Survey data products and maps available today are provided as additional background material to this submission. These catalogues explain the classification of data products into large scale products, business geographics products and other products. The associated pricing material despatched with this submission gives a clear flavour of the pricing principles. Additionally, each data product has a comprehensive and transparent price list which is available in the public domain on our web site at

  24.  Over the last two years, Ordnance Survey has held or reduced the price of its flagship large scale data products even though the Ordnance Survey investment programme has been extended substantially in the same period. In September 2000 we introduced a simplified and discounted Pay As You Use tariff for small extracts of large scale graphics that were hitherto priced by Ordnance Survey at what some argued were prohibitively high minimum prices. These extracts can be used in the planning process. Further information about the use of Ordnance Survey mapping in the planning process and other aspects of local government activity is provided at Annex C.

  25.  In addition, the price of Business Geographics products were reduced substantially in September 1999. ADDRESS-POINT has just been re-launched in the last few weeks at significantly lower prices from over £800k to £120k for a corporate licence in year one and from nearly £300k to £120k in second and subsequent years with data also being made available in smaller geographical units. Other data products have also fallen in price over the last few years.

  26.  The launch of OS MasterMap on 30 November 2001, has seen the introduction of an even more simple and transparent pricing and discount policy based on industry norms of data content, numbers of users and volume discounts. New, consistent and simpler pricing policies will continue to be introduced for all Ordnance Survey products. Service Level Agreements at equitable prices for major users will remain an important part of the Ordnance Survey product offering.

  27.  The management of copyright has been simplified significantly and the price reduced for many users. The introduction of the £45 business use copyright licence for small businesses has been universally welcomed. Property professionals can now make much greater use of Ordnance Survey material in their sales and marketing literature. The whole process of copyright and royalty management for citizens to national publishers has been simplified in recent years. The literature we provide about our copyright terms and conditions has been re-written in clear English such that these leaflets attract the Crystal Mark accreditation. Copies of all our Copyright leaflets are attached as additional material to this submission.

  28.  Some of the consumer paper products have been re-positioned in their market place as part of an overall package to clarify the most effective use of each product. Over the past two years this re-positioning has caused some prices to rise above inflation and some prices to fall in real terms. Annex D illustrates the current pricing structure, we are working to simplify this even further. The reasons behind recent changes to our consumer products are explained in Annex E. A key project at the moment is the re-branding exercise that will make it much clearer what are the use and benefits of each of Explorer, Landranger, Touring Maps and Road Maps.

  29.  It costs approximately £30,000 to revise a Landranger sheet. Many maps in the Explorer and Landranger series sell in very small numbers. Competititors do not maintain national cover and target their offerings on the popular and high selling areas.

  30.  Ordnance Survey is increasing its reliance on partners to add-value to basic geographic data and market applications into wider markets than Ordnance Survey could hope to service itself. This partner strategy is a fundamental element of our overall business strategy and is designed to increase the knowledge of the benefits of geographical data and maps, increase the use of such data and reduce the unit price to end-users while generating and sustaining an increasingly successful private sector market place in geographic systems and applications. Particular interest is being shown in the development of the location based services market, both mobile (3g telecommunications) and static (Desktop, Internet and Digital Interactive Television).

  31.  We have withdrawn from co-publishing because we were causing confusion in the market place by acting as both a licensor of data and a publishing competitor in the same arena. Publishers are now encouraged to licence data from Ordnance Survey and develop their own products from that data. As part of the disengagement process, and as part of an agreement to support its partners, Ordnance Survey has continued to offer chargeable cartographic services to a number of previous co-publishers. As these cartographic services can also be provided by private sector firms we will not continue to market such services ourselves in the future. There are published tariffs for the licensed use of Ordnance Survey material in guidebooks. These are included in the Copyright leaflets introduced above.

  32.  Free mapping and gazetteer services are available on the Ordnance Survey website ( through the Get-A-Map service. This also links through to a historical maps website managed by one of Ordnance Survey's partners. Many other partners, such as MultiMap, Streetmap, and Up-My-Street offer free mapping and information sites based upon Ordnance Survey data. In addition to providing free mapping, Ordnance Survey also hosts a website that provides free transformations between the global satellite positioning (GPS) referencing system and the co-ordinate system used in Ordnance Survey mapping and data. This GPS site has been very well used.

  33.  The Election Maps website ( was introduced for the 2001 General Election and subsequent by-elections and local elections. It has been well used. The website is maintained by Ordnance Survey and is designed solely to represent an up-to-date map of parliamentary constituency and local ward boundaries with detail within available at a range of scales during elections and at 1:50,000 between elections. There is an issue about the scales depicted on the website as consequence of our desire not to compete with or be seen to undercut partners using our data where there is potential for them to offer a similar chargeable service to end-users.

  34.  While the site may be up-dated to include better information on street names and house numbers, there is no intention for Ordnance Survey to move beyond mapping and geographical information, and stray into the areas where individuals can be identified as a result of information contained within the Election Maps site.


  35.  Ordnance Survey listens to its customers in all its varied market sectors. Often there are conflicting demands from the different sectors and a balance has to be struck between national interest, commercial imperatives, short term gain and long term benefit. Directors call on best practice from the public and private sectors to chart an effective management and business course through all the competing demands.

  36.  The resulting e-strategy has been developed from customer input, government input and Ordnance Survey's own desire to continuously improve its service to customers. Ordnance Survey's e-strategy is recognised by the Office of the E-envoy as being one of the best prepared in government. There are five strands to the strategy as follows:

    —  Putting the Customer first.

    —  Strategic Alliance.

    —  The New Ordnance Survey.

    —  Developing the Market.

    —  The Enabling Infrastructure.

  37.  In addition there are a range of strategic investments aimed at improving efficiencies and productivity in all areas of Ordnance Survey business.

  38.  Our aim is to make up-to-date Ordnance Survey data easily available to customers and partners, ideally 24 hours a day, if the customers require it. On the business side, many end users will have licenced access that enable on demand access to a wide range of consistent datasets that are derived from a single database. The days of some maps being more up-to-date than others will end. Traditional paper maps will be redesigned to embrace the benefits that can be gained from software that will generalise from large scale surveys to medium and small scale datasets and maps.

  39.  Customer relationship management is already assuming a very important role in Ordnance Survey business, making it easier to retain customers in the face of increasing National, European and Global competition. The geographic information market is one in which organisations can be competitors and partners at the same time. Ordnance Survey's partner strategy is designed to encourage new companies within the location market, existing companies and competitors to licence Ordnance Survey data and add value.

  40.  Enhancements to data content and the ability to integrate other supplier's data into the Ordnance Survey database or the ability to associate third party datasets through the Ordnance Survey framework are important elements of future development. There are Intellectual Property and Contract issues that need careful understanding when developing partnerships. Already, Ordnance Survey has good experience in integrating housebuilders', architects' and engineers' data into the database.


  41.  The Ordnance Survey website ( provides extensive information about Ordnance Survey and its full product portfolio. There are detailed sections containing case-study information about the use of Ordnance Survey mapping data. The website was recently awarded a five star excellence award by the Sunday Times.

  42.  There are also sections detailing the history and remit of Ordnance Survey together with copies of the Annual Reports for the past three years.

  43.  Parts of the site are devoted to Education and free services for all Ordnance Survey users. Publication dates and screenshots of all consumer products are available. Thumbnail images of the most up-to-date version of all 299,000 Land-Line titles today are also available. This service will be maintained for the life of Land-Line even after the introduction of OS MasterMap.

  44.  The implementation of many elements of the e-strategy mean that OS MasterMap data will be available on-line for key and major customers through their own dedicated sections of the site. Partners too have their own website area where they can keep in regular touch with the development of the Partner programme. We have just launched a Developer Partner programme where developers can obtain access to up to £40,000 of Ordnance Survey data to help develop new and innovative applications. We expect to announce improvements to our main Partner programme early in 2002.


  45.  Ordnance Survey has been in existence for 210 years. Huge amounts of change have taken place in that time. Some historical decisions, even the 1990s are historical now, have caused us some angst, but we are constantly working to improve our service to business, government and customers. In the last six years we have re-engineered the first generation digital database into a second generation one. We have developed and started to implement our e-strategy in the past 15 months and we have strengthened our Director and Senior Management team by mixing the best of public and private sector skills.

  46.  We are making ourselves much easier to do business with. We listen to our customer's concerns and we provide the best possible solution to all whilst continuing to balance the national interest in survey and mapping with the commercial drivers upon us.

  47.  There is still a lot more work to do but we are confident that we can face all the challenges of the future.

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