TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002

__________

Members present:

Andrew Bennett, in the Chair
Sir Paul Beresford
Mr Clive Betts
Mr John Cummings
Mrs Gwyneth Dunwoody
Mrs Louise Ellman
Chris Grayling
Ms Oona King

__________

Examination of Witnesses

MS SALLY KEEBLE, a Member of the House, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, MR KEN SWAN, Finance and Sponsorship Division, and MR PETER CAPELL, Planning and Land Use Statistics Division, Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, examined.

Chairman

  1. Can I welcome you to the Committee and can I ask you to identify yourself and your team for the record please.
  2. (Ms Keeble) Yes, I am Sally Keeble. I am Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions. I have with me Ken Swan, who is from the Finance and Sponsorship Division and Peter Capell from the Planning and Land Use Statistics Division.

  3. Thank you very much. Do you want to say anything by way of introduction or are you happy to go straight to questions?
  4. (Ms Keeble) I would like to say something.

  5. By all means.
  6. (Ms Keeble) I am very pleased that the Sub-Committee has decided to undertake this investigation into the work of Ordnance Survey. I took on ministerial responsibility for it last summer, along with my separate departmental responsibility. Ordnance Survey is a non-ministerial government department. It is an executive agency and operates, as you know, as a trading fund. As the Minister for Ordnance Survey, I have particular responsibilities for its strategic direction, for approving its business plans and to set the agency key targets each year. I have to say, I have been extremely impressed by the work of Ordnance Survey. The advances that are being made with digitised geographic and mapping information are very striking in their speed and quality. During the meetings that I have had with the Chief Executive, presentations I have been to and during short visits to Southampton, I have been very impressed with the energy and the sense of direction that is going into Ordnance Survey's programme of change on both a services and a staffing level. They are very actively responding to the needs of the geographic information marketplace, and also producing a climate of change within the organisation which all staff are being encouraged to contribute to, and some are clearly very supportive of as well. They have made very significant progress over the last two to three years and I am very keen to ensure that that development continues. You will have heard that Ordnance Survey data makes a huge contribution to the UK economy and we need to make sure that that contribution grows and continues. However, perhaps of more concern to me is the fact that Ordnance Survey has a major role to play in the development of public service delivery and that has very much informed my decision-making. You will be aware that I announced to the House on the 19th December that as a consequence of the report from stage one of the Quinquennial Review of OS, I was minded to accept the recommendation that the agency should move to a wholly government-owned plc. It was considered that such a status would provide the flexibilities and business freedoms to enable OS to continue to develop and respond quickly and effectively to the changing demands of a rapidly evolving industry and marketplace, and also, therefore, to meet the needs of public service providers. The Department and OS have now embarked on stage two of the Review that is seeking to produce a thorough assessment of the costs and benefits that the most appropriate government-owned plc model would have over the current trading fund status. We have appointed consultants to undertake the work. They will also look at the risks of a government-owned plc transition and what might happen should OS remain as a trading fund. I should say that stage two is not reopening the issues dealt with within stage one, but the work is focusing on the government-owned plc and trading fund comparison. I am looking for a robust and thorough analysis to inform the decision. I expect to receive the stage two report in May and to be able to announce a decision on the future structure before the House rises for the summer recess. We need to be very positive about the role that OS data can play in both co-ordinating services across government and developing citizen-based services. There are many opportunities, and I feel that we have only at present scratched the surface. At present, there are some departments and other government bodies that have not yet gained access to OS data and I am sure that the development of the pan-government agreement will help to develop those opportunities. I should also say that I think that the steps that OS have taken since 1999 to shift away from the development of more specialised products within the marketplace has also been very important. Its stated policy is to work with partners and it is their partners who have the expertise and experience to develop applications for OS data to meet particular market needs. OS will be facing increasing competitive challenges in the future and I am very keen that it is positioned to meet those challenges. It is very important, I believe, that OS remains within the public sector arena, but it does need to be able to maximise its investment arrangements within the private sector and be able to attract and retain the skills required to manage in a competitive environment. So I am very optimistic about the future of OS and particularly its ability to play a very important role in the development of public services right across government.

  7. Can I thank you very much for that statement. Can I also apologise to you that I shall have to leave at about ten to twelve for a hospital appointment, at which point Mrs Dunwoody will take over in the Chair. Can I start by pressing you about this question of the National Interest Mapping Service and the core activities. You will be aware of the Landranger maps, the 1:50,000 maps. Do you see that as part of the core activity of Ordnance Survey, producing those maps?
  8. (Ms Keeble) Well, the core activity is the national mapping and these maps which are produced I would say are part of the core activity because they provide a range of service which is really unmatched elsewhere, so yes, I would say it would be.

  9. Do they make a profit?
  10. (Ms Keeble) Not across the range. One of the functions that OS has to do is it has to map the whole of the country and it cannot just cherry-pick the bits which are particularly profitable and produce those maps, so the range of them does not, although one or two particular maps within the range might.

  11. Should they make a profit?
  12. (Ms Keeble) No, I do not think they should. Equally, they should not make a loss. They have been subsidised obviously in the past and I think some of them do still make a loss, and I think a figure of 40 per cent has been given to you.

  13. How should they cover those costs then? Should the taxpayer be covering the costs? (Ms Keeble) I think it is fair to provide some support for that particular range of activities because it is a basic service that applies right across the whole of the country.
  14. So that deals with the 1:50,000. What about the 1:25,000, the Explorer maps - are they something that ought to be available right across the country?
  15. (Ms Keeble) Yes, I think they should.

  16. Should they make a profit?
  17. (Ms Keeble) Well, both of those products should, as far as possible, be self-financing so that they are not making a great profit, no.

  18. So they should just be covering their costs, but they are part of the core activity of the Ordnance Survey?
  19. (Ms Keeble) I would say they are, yes.

  20. What about the Landplan range as we are going down or going up in detail - where should that come in?
  21. (Ms Keeble) Well, in that it is an application, I would expect that to be one of the core activities to provide a range of mapping products of the more conventional type that should not make a profit, but should provide a public service.

  22. So if you were dealing with a planning issue, you should be able to get hold of part of the Landplan map at a very reasonable cost in order to argue at a public inquiry that you want something to happen or you do not want something to happen?
  23. (Ms Keeble) Well, I think that would depend on what you are getting and what use you are making of it.

  24. So if you are the developer who is going to make a nice profit, you should pay for it, but if you are the person next door who wants to protect your view, you should not pay for it?
  25. (Ms Keeble) I would not necessarily say that. Some people might be able to get their maps through different agency agreements or indeed rather than go out and buy a map, you can get some maps off the Internet.

  26. 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?
  27. (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.

  28. I understand it is the problem, but I am looking to you for the solutions.
  29. (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.

  30. 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?
  31. (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.

  32. 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?
  33. (Ms Keeble) The maps which are sold I think we have dealt with because they are self-financing.

  34. They are not self-financing. You have just told us that they make a loss.
  35. (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.

  36. 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?
  37. (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.

  38. 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?
  39. (Ms Keeble) I have to say I cannot answer for Getmapping.

  40. 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.
  41. (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.

  42. 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?
  43. (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

  44. 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?
  45. (Ms Keeble) That it is not. Anyone here could set up in business in competition with Ordnance Survey.

    Sir Paul Beresford

  46. 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?
  47. (Ms Keeble) Their relationship is to, if you like, provide the applications using the data which Ordnance Survey provides.

  48. You draw a boundary at that point on Ordnance Survey?
  49. (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 ----

  50. By "they" you mean Ordnance Survey or the commercial partners?
  51. (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

  52. 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.
  53. (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

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

    Chairman

  56. 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.
  57. (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 the companies 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

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

  60. Yes.
  61. (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

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

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

    Mrs Dunwoody

  66. Competition legislation is not only complex it is extremely slow. Frankly, it takes years. You could solve a problem by making somebody bankrupt.
  67. (Ms Keeble) That is only one option. There is the Ombudsman and there is HMSO, which regulates in terms of copyright.

    Chairman

  68. So how do you appeal against the HMSO's decision on copyright?
  69. (Ms Keeble) You said is there any form of regulation - who do you complain to? There are three. We are also, I would say, as part of the Stage 2 of the Quinquennial Review ----

    Chairman: You can complain to the Queen, you can complain to all sorts of people, but it is not necessarily very effective is it?

    Chris Grayling

  70. You can complain to the Minister.
  71. (Ms Keeble) Yes, you can complain to the Minister as well, and some people do that, I have to say.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  72. Where do you refer it to?
  73. (Ms Keeble) I do not, I deal with it.

  74. So if there is a problem with copyright ----
  75. (Ms Keeble) No, no, it should go to the relevant person, clearly. If there is an issue about copyright HMSO is the regulator. If there is an issue about the Companies Act legislation, I think you would complain to the OFT - and people do complain to the OFT and it is not actually that complicated.

    Mrs Ellman

  76. But the evidence we have got suggests that people feel that they have not got a regulator - or at least not one that is effective. Why do you think that might be?
  77. (Ms Keeble) I am sure there are some sections of the industry that feel there is not a regulator, and it is a serious issue. I would say that there are some regulatory bodies that impact on different areas of OS work. I certainly agree it is something we have to look at under Stage 2 of the review. I completely agree with that. I think there are issues about governance and regulation which are extremely important and which we have to deal with. I think the area where there is a gap is the area of regulation for the geographic information market, as it were. There is a gap there, I would agree.

    Ms King

  78. On that subject, the Committee has had sight of an article by the AGI (Association for Geographic Information) Chair, which says of the Quinquennial Review: "It presents an almost complacent view that there are no problems facing Ordnance Survey that cannot be solved by giving it a little more competitive market edge and paying its executives more". Do you think the review could have been more effective if it had started by considering OS's key role in the area, for example, that you just mentioned, rather than taking it as a given?
  79. (Ms Keeble) Yes. AGI was actually on the steering group for the Quinquennial Review, of course, as were DTLR (my department), the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. So they did have an opportunity to make comments about what they thought about the conduct of the review then. I think it is fair to say that the review ----

    Chairman

  80. Wait a minute, the steering committee set up the guidelines for doing the review; it did not actually produce the review, did it?
  81. (Ms Keeble) No, but I think if you are on the steering ----

  82. So if you set up the guidelines you hope someone is going to do the job vigorously. You can then hardly, as a minister, complain if one of those people who set up the guidelines feels that it was a whitewash.
  83. (Ms Keeble) I still think that if you have particular views about what a Quinquennial Review should cover and if you think there is an issue about the core function and purpose of OS, I think it would be fair to expect an organisation to flag that up as something ----

  84. Surely that was flagged up as part of the Quinquennial Review?
  85. (Ms Keeble) I would still repeat that AGI did have a voice, they were not completely excluded from the process, ----

  86. No, but they said "This is a key issue" and then when the review was completed it did not really address the issue.
  87. (Ms Keeble) They had a role on the steering group and they were party to setting up the review. I think it is fair to flag that up. I would say that I think that the Quinquennial Review went very thoroughly through the options open to OS. There are clearly issues that need to be looked at very carefully in Stage 2 of the review, which is why we have gone down that road instead of just saying "This is the decision, off we go". Obviously, issues about regulation and core and non-core activities, as it were, are some of the things that will need to be very carefully covered during that Stage 2 review.

  88. Just for the Committee's information, could you mention the other areas that might be covered?
  89. (Ms Keeble) I went through some of them in my opening statement. The issues which I am particularly concerned to see covered are issues about governance, which I think are extremely important, the issues about regulation, the issues about financial arrangements and a very thorough examination of the advantages of either moving to government-owned plc status or retaining ----

    Mrs Dunwoody

  90. But that was precisely the point that you made; that, firstly, the second stage was not going to go over anything that was looked at in the first stage and, secondly, that it would be very strongly targeted at deciding whether it should be a government-owned company or a trading partner. So you have implied that the second stage is an examination of the two alternatives, whereas the question we are asking is has anybody looked at what the real core activities are and whether you get into difficulties if for any reason techniques change and the demands of government become different from the ones that they were in 17-whatever it was. Even with the best governments, there have been one or two changes since 17-whatever it was.
  91. (Ms Keeble) Ninety-one.

  92. There you go. Time moves on.
  93. (Ms Keeble) The basic function is still there, it is a national mapping agency. The difficulty is that because the technology has changed the interpretation of what that means is not the same ----

  94. So you are going to take account of that in the second stage and not just look at whether it is better value to have a trading organisation or a government-owned company.
  95. (Ms Keeble) We would have to look at some of those issues, yes.

    Mrs Dunwoody: So you would, in effect, be re-doing some of the work that was done in the first stage.

    Mrs Ellman

  96. Is Ordnance Survey going to be made a government-owned plc?
  97. (Ms Keeble) That depends on the outcome of the Stage 2 review. What I have said is that I am minded to think that it should move to a government-owned plc and I think there is a whole variety of reasons for that. However, I think it is extremely important that whatever structure we get for OS it is the right one. It is in a very complex position, both because of the complexity of the market and, also, because of the importance of what it does for government services, so I want to make sure that, in terms of both finances and the implications for government public services, we get it absolutely right. Although I am minded to say I think it should move to a government-owned plc, it is not a closed mind.

  98. Do you think that would be the right structure to solve the conflicts between government and public interests as against those of private enterprise?
  99. (Ms Keeble) I think those conflicts are going to be there whatever the structure is because of the points I made before; that increasingly quite a lot of activities are going to come under pressure because of competition legislation and, also, there are big pressures coming up from Europe. Those are going to have implications ----

    Chairman

  100. What are the pressures from Europe?
  101. (Ms Keeble) They think that a whole range of government services and information should be provided free of charge, as I understand it.

    Chris Grayling

  102. What business is it of theirs?
  103. (Ms Keeble) At present they are looking, primarily, at environmental information. It is a way off yet but we have to have a robust framework and be aware that that is on the horizon. So the pressures are always going to be there.

  104. Why is that on the horizon? Surely that is not an area of competence for you.
  105. (Ms Keeble) Let me just answer Mrs Ellman's points first. I think what is important is that we get to a position where OS can deal with those pressures but, also, where it has a very robust financial framework so that it can continue to invest in the development of its database because the Government has a direct interest in having the highest possible quality of information to inform public services.

    Mrs Ellman

  106. You say you have not got a closed mind, but what else are you contemplating?
  107. (Ms Keeble) The other one would be to keep to a trading fund. I will go into as much or as little about that as you want. There has already been mention of issues about the payment of staff and that we should just pay the chief executive more money and that would do it. I am not convinced that that would be enough actually, because there are issues about staffing and the skills that need to be got in to do the range of work for OS. I think there are also issues about the fact that the technology is changing very fast. I know that OS does not want to be at the cutting edge of technology because you sometimes have to be a little bit removed from it, but they need to be able to invest reasonably quickly. They need quite a lot of flexibility, and one of the constraints on the trading fund is the investment on capital returns, which in a sense could actually be a deterrent to investment. That is also one of the reasons why I think we really seriously have to look at the flexibilities of a government-owned plc as opposed to a trading fund account.

  108. Is privatisation ruled out?
  109. (Ms Keeble) I am very much opposed to OS being privatised.

    Chairman

  110. That was not the question you were asked.
  111. (Ms Keeble) If you look at the wording of the Quinquennial Review, I think it says that privatisation is not seen as an option at the current stage.

  112. And you are personally against it as well?
  113. (Ms Keeble) I am personally very much opposed to it. If I could just explain one of the reasons why I think it is so important that OS succeeds and succeeds in the public sector, it is that I think it is very important, with the level of information that you can get in a national database of this type, that it is within the public sector and protected by Crown copyright.

    Chairman: Chris Grayling, do you want to pursue this EU point?

    Chris Grayling

  114. I do not see why the EU should be seeking to obtain competency in this area.
  115. (Ms Keeble) I am not an expert on this part of the EU but I am told that it is looking at this area.

  116. Are we telling them to back off?
  117. (Ms Keeble) I think it is about basic citizens' rights. I think my officials are more involved in the negotiations than I am.

    (Mr Capell) My understanding is that what the EC want to do is to have a common system of access to environmental information for all residents in all countries of the EC in a common and systematic way. Ordnance Survey are certainly part of the negotiations that are going on and are very firm in their expressions and representations of the constraints that they are under as a trading fund. One has to bear in mind here that Ordnance Survey's mapping, as a level of excellence, is generally better than other European countries, and it is not necessarily the case that the largest scale of mapping that Ordnance Survey produces, which is where the greatest considerations are in this area, is what is going to be needed on the European database.

    (In the absence of the Chairman Mrs Dunwoody was called to the Chair.)

    Mrs Dunwoody

  118. Mr Capell, you are taking a number of decisions without any very clear view why.
  119. (Mr Capell) I do not think so.

    Chris Grayling

  120. What concerns me, hearing what you say, and this is the second example in recent weeks of the EU seeking to expand its competency, is that you, as Minister, are saying you are not really sure what is going. If this is a case where the EU is seeking to expand its competency to an area that I am certainly not aware of it having a competency in the past, and there is no obvious reason why it has happened, it is actually your job, as Minister, to be fighting the fight to make sure that does not happen and saying "back off" to the EU.
  121. (Ms Keeble) I take your point. I would just say that I have only fairly recently been made aware of this particular difficulty.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  122. I think it would be helpful, rather than pursue this at this moment, if you would give us a short note on any suggestion that there should be any EU competency in this field and what definitions there are, and what possibility there can be.
  123. (Ms Keeble) We will do that.

    Mr Cummings

  124. The Committee has been told by respective witnesses that the benefits of merging OS and the Land Registry would be significant. Yet the Committee has also been told that the Quinquennial Review disregarded this as not feasible. Are you satisfied that the option was adequately considered?
  125. (Ms Keeble) I think the Quinquennial Review looked at the possibility of merging with a range of organisations. In the case of the Land Registry it would seem there that you would be combining an organisation whose main purpose was to collect the data and to manage it, with one whose main purpose was to actually use it, and I think it would be unwieldy. So, yes, I think it was given proper consideration and I think that the Quinquennial Review was right to rule that out.

  126. In many countries the Land Registry and the large-scale mapping organisation are one. Would it not make sense to consider a similar arrangement in England where the Land Registry is Ordnance Survey's biggest customer?
  127. (Ms Keeble) I have looked at the different options - I have to say not in huge detail - and I cannot think of one where those two were specifically merged. Was it the Australian one that you were looking at?

  128. I am not quite sure which one it was.
  129. (Ms Keeble) I think it is the Australian one, and I think that the circumstances in Australia are completely different from here. I think we need to look at what OS has done and what is the best way forward.

  130. What makes us so different from other countries?
  131. (Ms Keeble) We are different from Australia because they have a not very densely populated country, and we have one of the most highly urbanised countries in the whole of, certainly, Western Europe. If we look at some of the other models, some of them have got some merit. Germany is probably the closest one; they devolve it down to the Lander. If we look at the United States, for example, and its model, some of its data is seven years out of date, which I do not think is where we want to get to. We do have the advantage of having been one of the first countries to get into this, and we are fortunate in having a very, very high standard of national mapping. I think we have to look at how we develop it in the best interests of this country.

  132. I think the Committee are working on the premise that a merger of that nature could possibly avoid the quasi-commercial pricing negotiations that Ordnance Survey is involved in at the present time.
  133. (Ms Keeble) Our Quinquennial Review turned it down. I think the Land Registry quinquennial review also turned it down. If you have got two organisations that do their job in an efficient manner - certainly in the case of OS in an outstanding manner - I do not see the need then to merge it with another organisation which has got quite a different function.

  134. You are convinced that it is not a matter of dogs in the manger?
  135. (Ms Keeble) How do you mean?

  136. Just wanting to retain their independence ad infinitum.
  137. (Ms Keeble) I do not think so because they have got very good partnership arrangements with the private sector. They have got Service Level Agreements with different government departments and they have got a good track record of working very closely with a number of organisations including the Land Registry. There is a difference between working well with somebody and merging with them.

    Mrs Dunwoody

  138. Is it not true that the Quinquennial Review raised the question of what they call "wasteful and largely theoretical discussion"?
  139. (Ms Keeble) Of what, of a merger?

  140. Between the Land Registry and OS.
  141. (Ms Keeble) In terms of merging?

  142. This was apparently what you yourself said; that in HMLR there was an " ... issue of wasteful and largely theoretical discussions, which had little commercial rationale behind them, of how much HMLR should pay for the use of OS mapping." In other words, they have very close relationships but they still spend hours arguing about something which ought to be sorted out quite quickly.
  143. (Ms Keeble) That is a criticism of their discussions about pricing, which I would have thought is fair enough if people think that the discussions about prices go on for too long. If there is a requirement for pricing to be there, if they have to have that arrangement, they are going to have to have it whether or not they are under the same management.

  144. Is a Pan Government Service Level Agreement going to help to achieve greater value for money?
  145. (Ms Keeble) I would expect so, yes, and I would expect it would also deal with some of the wasteful discussions that you talked about.

  146. So what kind of savings are you talking about?
  147. (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.

  148. 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?
  149. (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.

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

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

    Mrs Ellman

  154. 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?
  155. (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.

  156. Does that mean that you are unwilling to look at alternatives?
  157. (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.

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

    (Mr Capell) Yes.

  160. Could you tell us what the issues are? Or would you be willing to make details of those discussions available?
  161. (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 Ellman

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

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

    Chris Grayling

  166. How do the Ordnance Survey's electronic systems link into the National Land Use Database?
  167. (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 mapped on Ordnance Survey, 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.

  168. How comprehensive do you think the National Land Use Database actually is?
  169. (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 say it is going to be complete now, we are researching how to do it.

  170. 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?
  171. (Mr Capell) No, there is no discrepancy at all. Ordnance Survey have been partners with the Department, IDA 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 Dunwoody

  172. 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?
  173. (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.

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

  176. 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?
  177. (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.

  178. 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.
  179. (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.

  180. 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.
  181. (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.

  182. 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.