Select Committee on Communities and Local Government Committee Written Evidence


Memorandum by the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Improvement and Development Agency (IDEA)

  The Local Government Association (LGA) promotes better local government. It works with and for member authorities to realise a shared vision of local government that enables local people to shape a distinctive and better future for their locality and its communities. The LGA aims to put local councils at the heart of the drive to improve public services and to work with government to ensure that the policy, legislative and financial context in which they operate, supports that objective.

  The Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) aims to make public services the best public services by supporting self-sustaining improvement from within local government. The IDeA works in partnership with all councils, to enhance the performance of the best, accelerate the speed of improvement of the rest, and develop the sector as a whole.

SUMMARY OF POINTS MADE IN THIS MEMORANDUM

    (a)  Local Government is a major user of Ordnance Survey services and indirectly supplies addressing information to Ordnance Survey.

    (b)  Geographic and locational information are important as enablers to effective and efficient public service delivery, and to helping citizens help themselves.

    (c)  It is in the public interest to have a clear and cost effective approach to the availability and licensing of information where needed for public services.

    (d)  IDeA has specific responsibilities to procure mapping services on behalf of all local government users, and is responsible for the National Land and Property Gazetteer that collates details of addresses of properties in every local area.

Question 1:

    (e)  There must be a clear distinction between the public good function and commercial functions of Ordnance Survey: currently this is unclear and gives rise to disputes over intellectual property rights and licensing.

    (f)  There should be robust, independent governance of principles such as data standards, effective use and accessibility of information in the public interest, and to ensure equity in distinguishing public and commercial interests.

    (g)  Certain locational data falling within Ordnance Survey control and licensing should be treated as public good services, including some standard geographies used for presenting information, and addressing and property location.

Question 2:

    (h)  Recent steps to establish effective arbitration are welcome but need strengthening and the roles of the various bodies concerned clarified.

Question 3:

    (i)  The Geographic Information Panel has been valuable in driving work so far in creating a UK Geographic Information Strategy. The Panel should be time limited: the strategy will need a different governance structure. Whilst in existence, the Panel should set a yearly plan with targets and produce an annual report outlining achievements.

Question 4:

    (j)  The balance between public and private sector representation on the Geographic Information Panel is broadly acceptable. However, membership needs at least one person selected for expertise in innovation, and the Panel would benefit from further public service delivery experience.

Question 5:

    (k)  It would not be appropriate to have the head of a fully commercial organisation as the sole government adviser on all aspects of survey, mapping and information: consideration should be given to a clearer separation of Ordnance Survey public good and commercial functions.

Question 6:

    (l)  We do not have evidence to assess the impact of removing the NIMSA subsidy but would be concerned at any diminution in the quality of products covering rural areas that impacted on service quality, and particularly in relation to the emergency services. Accurate monitoring is needed to provide evidence to show how product quality is being sustained.

Question 7:

    (m)  We cannot answer this: the cost for local government is determined by a procurement that runs to 2009. Ordnance Survey pricing should provide clarity about whether there is uplift in costs as a result of NIMSA withdrawal.

Question 8:

    (n)  Ordnance Survey business models, and licensing controls give a controlling position over potential commercial competition. A vibrant and competitive market in the use and development of geographic information would be of benefit to local government and therefore to both citizen and taxpayer.

MEMORANDUM

Context

  1.  The Local Government sector is a major customer and user of Ordnance Survey services. It is also, indirectly, a supplier of certain information to Ordnance Survey, particularly in relation to addressing.

  2.  The role of data, statistics and information, including geographic and locational data is growing as an enabler to effective and efficient public service delivery. This is brought into sharp focus as citizens increasingly expect high quality, accessible, efficient and relevant services at reasonable cost, and by the fact that public expenditure is subject to considerable constraint.

  3.  Geographic information, including that provided through Ordnance Survey services, is an important, but still under exploited tool for public service planning, co-ordination and delivery at all levels. Geographic information aids understanding of the distinctive characteristics of place, community, economies and environments. It is therefore important to local service providers and procurers (including local government) in helping to respond effectively and efficiently to the varying needs of citizens and the circumstances of their lives.[68] This is crucial to successful "place shaping" which is at the heart of the local government remit as set out in the recent Local Government White Paper.

  4.  Local Government directly delivers or procures a diverse range of services. It is also the local integrator or key delivery partner for a much wider set of activities across the social, economic and environmental spectrum, engaging the public, private and voluntary sector partners in the process. This involves bringing together and making sense of the complex array of public policy levers that operate within any particular area, for example, through Local Area Agreements.

  5.  Access to, and the sharing of, location specific data and analysis is of increasing importance to local authorities. Neighbourhoods within local authorities have discrete and complex requirements even in comparing adjacent wards, and the correct base information to allow statistics from multiple sources (including census data) requires a robust geographic framework to support them.[69] For example, Local Strategic Partnerships need an evidence led approach in assessing the needs of local communities and targeting service provision. Standards for integrating this geographic information are important and need partnership between Ordnance Survey, the user community and the providers of the statistics (including Office for National Statistics). Geographic information provides:

    —  a diagnostic to inform service delivery;

    —  the means to assess performance and audit service delivery; and

    —  a means for the public to access up to date information eg on criminal activity, to enable them to take appropriate preventative action.

  6.  Also, where emergency services are needed, accessibility, accuracy and consistency of locational information is crucial and, in extremis, a matter of life or death. Further examples of the importance of geographic information include:

    —  The every child matters agenda,[70] where education, health and social services need to be co-ordinated and properly informed at the local delivery point by the best intelligence and data, particularly in relation to safeguarding matters.

    —  Waste and environmental health.

    —  Tackling crime and disorder.

    —  Co-ordinating the work of utilities by sharing information on cables, water mains, gas mains and telecoms lines and mapping this onto highways data: for example, to plan road works to ensure efficient use of resources and minimise disruption to the public.

    —  Route planning via integrated transport planners showing train, bus and other transport interchanges.

    —  Sustainable development and environment protection, for example in meeting increasing housing needs and protecting the environment.

  7.  Geographic information plays a key role in empowering citizens to access services, helping individuals and communities help themselves. For example using addresses as spatial reference, citizens can report abandoned vehicles, fly tipping, graffiti, uneven paving stones, suspicious activities, notify changes of address etc via contact centres or websites.[71]

  8.  Local Government also generates significant geographic and locational data, for example a statutory requirement to create addresses resulting from new development through naming and numbering. Current difficulties in ensuring consistency between the major agencies involved in recording addresses (Royal Mail, Ordnance Survey and IDeA) indicate that there is still much to be done in this area.

  9.  It is strongly in the public interest to have a clear and cost effective approach to the availability and licensing of data, statistics and evidence where needed to deliver services for the benefit of the public.

  10.  IDeA holds some specific responsibilities which have led to a long engagement with Ordnance Survey in two key areas:

    —  IDeA has procured, on behalf of all local government users, a comprehensive set of mapping services that cover local government needs. The agreement supporting this arrangement (the Mapping Services Agreement) covers services from three suppliers including Ordnance Survey. The Ordnance Survey elements represent annual licence fees to Ordnance Survey of over £17.5 million pa (covering requirements for England, Wales and Scotland, including Police, Fire and National Parks alongside local authority usage). 574 authorities benefit from this collective procurement. This procurement in 2005 was a precursor to a similar process led by the Department for Communities and Local Government for the rest of the public sector (currently out to tender).

    —  IDeA is responsible for the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG)—this collates details of addresses for all properties in every local area. This dataset has been subject to engagement between IDeA and Ordnance Survey over several years: issues over licensing of this data remain intractable despite effort on several fronts over recent months.

Question 1—In 2002 the Committee's predecessor, the Transport, Local Government and the Regions Committee, concluded in its report on Ordnance Survey: "there is a clear need to define the boundaries of Ordnance Survey public service and national interest work." To what extent has the position changed in the intervening five years?

  11.  We believe that the findings described in Question 1 are as relevant today as they were in 2002, and that they need to be acted on. The proposed UK Geographic Information Strategy needs to provide a framework to help address this if the Strategy comes to fruition and is sufficiently resourced to be deliverable. Also, if effective arbitration processes had existed the problems in relation to establishing a single addressing infrastructure, which are commented on elsewhere in this document, may not have arisen.

  12.  There must be a clear distinction between the public good function of Ordnance Survey, and the commercial role of the Ordnance Survey as a trading fund. This distinction is unclear, and not written into the Ordnance Survey Trading Fund (1999) or Ordnance Survey Framework (2004) definitions of Ordnance Survey's role. The result is continued questioning over intellectual property rights and licensing issues, and disputes that inhibit public good purposes.

  13.  The former should be accessible and available on a basis that is analogous to national statistics (there is an argument that some core geographic data should be classified as national or official statistics): ie available without undue constraint or prohibitive cost to all who require them in the public interest. We therefore broadly support the findings of the Office for Fair Trading report that Public Information Holders separate their remits for "refined and unrefined" data ie that Trading Funds like Ordnance Survey should make commercial use of their own unrefined data on the same basis as that available to other commercial users of that data. The Prime Ministers Strategy Unit has endorsed some of these conclusions in a recent report.[72]

  14.  There should be robust and independent governance to provide guardianship of principles such as data standards and effective use and accessibility in the public interest, and to ensure that the distinction between public and commercial interests is equitable. One model for this might be that in the Statistics and Registration Services Bill (at the time of writing before Parliament). The Bill:

    —  Provides for guardianship and scrutiny of national and official statistics.

    —  Aims to ensure confidence in these statistics; and

    —  Includes a duty on the proposed board to recognise the public good role of such statistics.

  15.  There are locational data that, in varying ways, fall within Ordnance Survey control and licensing that should be defined as public good services, including:

    —  Relevant "core reference geographies" where not the responsibility of others (for example Defra in relation to certain statutory designations) as a means of presenting statistics and data (where appropriate) at consistent and therefore comparable geographic levels: for example by local government boundaries or by census output areas; and

    —  Addressing and property location: the ability to identify accurately people and property is necessary for effective public service delivery across the spectrum, be it the alleviation of poverty, effective planning for education, levying tax, emergency service delivery, national security etc. There should be a single, definitive system for addressing and property location as a public good without any unnecessary intellectual property, licensing, cost or other constraints on use and accessibility.

  Whilst we understand why the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI) might conclude that addressing is outside Ordnance Survey's "public task"[73] given the terms of Ordnance Survey's remit as set out in the Trading Fund (1999) and Framework (2004) definitions, we believe that this is not in the public interest. We are therefore also very concerned by the recent Department for Communities and Local Government statement that it does wish to pursue a single National Spatial Address Infrastructure.[74]

  Local authorities currently provide addressing information to Royal Mail and thereby to Ordnance Survey for their Address-Point commercial product (with councils receiving no recognition or recompense). Ordnance Survey licensing constrains local government from generating income directly from this same information, for example, to help cover the costs of maintaining its address databases. Rather than sustaining this fraught situation, a single address system created and maintained as a public good on the basis proposed in this document would resolve this complex and ultimately costly dispute. It would also bring the benefits of the local authority system which also includes the identification of buildings that don't have addresses to be identified: clearly a matter of importance to the emergency services for example.

  Such an outcome would be consistent with early Geographic Information Panel work in developing a UK Geographic Information Strategy which also pointed to the value of developing a single addressing / property location infrastructure.

  17.  The approach outlined above would also be consistent with:

    —  The recent EU INSPIRE Directive that requires certain data sets to be publicly available at no (or modest) cost , establishes principles for sharing certain core data; and the need for government to adopt one reference version of any definitive core data set.

    —  Wider developments in the provision and sharing of data, including those from Cabinet Office with regard to Transformational Government[75] which sees geographic information as part of the public service technology architecture.

Question 2—In 2002, the Select Committee also identified "a clear need for some form of independent arbitration so that conflicts could be resolved" between OS and its partners and customers. To what extent has that position changed in the intervening five years?

  18.  There are also some distinct issues that surround the need for effective arbitration: for example, arbitration is not, as far as we are aware, available to licensed users of OS data (the terms of such licences are broadly unchanged since the Select Committee's previous report). Here we believe that current developments in this direction are welcome but need considerable strengthening to build on the fact that Ordnance Survey:

    —  is within the scope of Public Service Information Regulations but without sufficiently robust means to resolve disputes; and

    —  that trading funds are the first organisations to work within the good practice guidelines of the Information Fair Trader Scheme (IFTS). Whilst Ordnance Survey was initially approved, they were subsequently criticised in a report on IFTS published in March 2006. The fit between IFTS rule, Public Service Information Regulations and competition law is not yet subject to significant case law, but early indications suggest the processes need development and further effort is needed to clarify responsibilities.

  19.  The introduction of a market regulator should be a significant improvement, however the result has been slow to bed in and we remain concerned about the extent to which Office of Public Sector Information recommendations have sufficient authority. Also, the roles of the Office of Public Sector Information, the Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information and the Office of Fair Trading are not necessarily clear to the outsider.

Question 3—What is your assessment of the UK Geographic Panel's operation since its introduction in 2005?

  20.  We welcome the hard work led by the Panel under Ordnance Survey chairing to develop the basis for a UK Geographic Information Strategy: we believe this to be the key purpose for such a Panel. However, we believe that through no fault of the Panel, this work is inhibited because ministerial sponsorship is not configured to reflect the UK remit of the Panel or the cross cutting nature of geographic information which touches many aspects of public policy and services.

  21.  We believe however, that the Panel should be time limited in current form and that an agreed UK geographic information strategy will need a different governance structure along the lines described both above in response to questions 1 and 2, and amplified below in response to question 4. Whilst in existence, we believe that the Panel should set a yearly plan with targets and produce an annual report outlining achievements.

Question 4—The Select committee's predecessor, in recommending in 2002 that an advisory panel on geographic information should be created, suggested that it should have at least three members, including the Association for Geographic Information, OS and a private sector representative. Is the current panel's membership sufficiently balanced with three private sector representatives among its 12 members?

  22.  This answer to this question requires clarity about the role and function of the Panel. The private sector is an innovator and provider of geographic information services. Effective engagement and dialogue between public, private and voluntary sector interests is therefore crucial and, for example, the industry needs to be engaged in any development of a UK Geographic Information strategy.

  23.  There is no apparent market failure or equity issue that justifies special public policy treatment for the geographic information industry per se. It is therefore appropriate to focus the functions of a Panel and a Strategy on the public policy and public good dimension of geographic information and therefore to focus engagement with the private and voluntary sector on:

    —  Identifying how the private sector can help effective delivery of public policy goals and how government at all levels will work with the industry.

    —  Where geographic information generates business benefits for the private sector that have potential application and value for the public sector. Some uses have such commonality, for example both private and public sectors are interested in demographic change and the use of geographic information for property identification; and

    —  The potential for geographic information policy and infra structure to support public/private/voluntary sector partnerships for public service delivery.

  24.  On this basis, we conclude that insofar as the panel is to continue, that the balance between public and private sector representation is broadly acceptable but that there are two areas for further consideration:

    (i)  Whether at least one member of the panel ought to be selected on the basis of expertise in innovation and cutting edge development and use of geographic information. Such an individual would most likely be drawn from the private sector, but if appropriate could come from the academic, voluntary or public sector; and

    (ii)  Public sector representation is heavily biased towards central government. Public service delivery bodies are effectively confined to the single local government representative. Whilst we entirely acknowledge the important use that central government has for geographic information, the bias is out of kilter with the extent to which public service delivery and therefore very substantial public expenditure is devolved, and increasingly accounted for at local level. We suggest an increase in local public service representation to reflect the high level of usage within local government and the emergency services, and, increasingly by health services and others.

  25.  However, if the Geographic Information Panel has a role in advising the Government on how it can best help British industry to exploit the commercial potential of geographic information, then there would be justification in increasing private sector representation on the Panel or its successor body and we would be content with such an arrangement under these circumstances.

Question 5—In a memorandum to the Committee during its recent inquiry into DCLG's Annual Report 2006, the Government said that the ending of NIMSA means "there is no distinction for OS between public service and commercial activity". If that is the case, should the head of a commercially active organisation continue, ex officio, to be official adviser to Ministers on "all aspects of survey, mapping, and geographic information"?

  26.  We are concerned at the CLG conclusion as expressed in this question. The public sector, including Ordnance Survey, are generators of substantial and important data in the public interest, which are deployed through public policy and service delivery on behalf of the tax payer, to benefit the citizen.

  27.  It is inconsistent to treat national or official statistics such as neighbourhood statistics or the indices of deprivation as public goods, yet, by implication, treat their use in understanding locality or community in geographic terms as indistinct from commercial activity. As indicated earlier, local authority dependence on the underpinning geographic framework is substantially growing and commercial charging for their use in public service delivery is therefore unwelcome.

  28.  It would not be appropriate to have the head of a fully commercial organisation as the sole Ministerial adviser on all aspects of survey, mapping and information. We believe that clarity in distinguishing what Ordnance Survey provides for the public good and what is solely a commercial enterprise, coupled with appropriate governance would go some way to address the concern that underlies the question, and would address the conflict of interest that is inherent in the way Ordnance Survey is currently structured and operates.

  29.  However, it is important that the adviser on geographic information issues to government is someone with a thorough grounding in the issues of geographic information on the one hand, and the policy framework within which government operates on the other. The intrusion of bias from commercial interests cannot be acceptable to those acting on the advice given.

  30.  Whilst we are concerned with public good outcomes not institutional structures, it is worth exploring the extent to which Ordnance Survey can be structured to create a sharper divide between public good and public good commissioning functions, and a contractor/provider function that maintains the public requirement, but has freedom to exploit the underlying data in delivering other commercial products for which it sees a market.

Question 6—What impacts will the ending of NIMSA have on rural mapping?

  31.  Local Government is a major geographic information user and customer of Ordnance Survey and therefore has a strong interest in the quality of Ordnance Survey's outputs. We do not have evidence to track the precise impact that removal of the subsidy has made on the quality of particular products. We also note that Ordnance Survey has undertaken to maintain all existing products that received NIMSA support under the local government Mapping Services Agreement. We would be concerned if there were any diminution in the quality of relevant products covering rural areas that impacted on service quality. Many rural authorities were not content with the rural revision cycle whilst NIMSA was in place. Any reduction in that cycle could potentially have detrimental effects on the ability to deliver services, and is of particular concern in relation to the emergency services.

  32.  Councils cover the full range of communities and localities from dense urban infrastructure to remote rural areas and we believe that equal accuracy and consistency of Ordnance Survey products is necessary across this spectrum: for example, there are risks to emergency planning and environmental health activity if quality declines in future. If the most likely impact is on the frequency of updates to rural mapping data, this could have significant implications where, for example, large housing or road development takes place in the intervening period. Local authorities may be able to counter some of the impact as they maintain land and property gazetteers that keep address data up-to-date based on their own internal intelligence based on customer services, planning, tax, electoral and other services. However, linking this information to up to date mapping data is still vital tool as a tool for monitoring such functions.

  33.  We believe that accurate monitoring of Ordnance Survey activity costs and impacts is therefore necessary to provide evidence to demonstrate that product quality is being sustained. We support suggestions in OFT's report on Commercial Use of Public Information and other sources, that Ordnance Survey's financial mechanisms for supporting products should be given greater clarity. Whilst local government, through the Mapping Services Agreement has negotiated a regional Key Performance Indicator on Ordnance Survey to monitor mapping revision, the current government target to monitor Ordnance Survey mapping revision is limited to a national average. It is therefore, currently, difficult to monitor the effects of the removal of NIMSA in individual rural authorities from published figures.

Question 7—Will the procurement of necessary services be more expensive for local authorities now that OS is not providing them under NIMSA?

  34.  We are not in a position to give a definitive answer. This is partly because of the procurement cycle employed in contracting with Ordnance Survey on behalf of all local authorities under the Mapping Services Agreement. The current Agreement runs until 2009.

  35.  We have seen no direct impact in terms of prices of current products supplied under the current Agreement as the charges for the relevant products were defined for a four year period as part of the initial negotiation. Our system imposes quality requirements on suppliers, and it is unclear whether the withdrawal of NIMSA will result in lower quality for existing data provided by Ordnance Survey, but none is apparent to date.

  36.  We believe that clear visibility of Ordnance Survey pricing mechanisms would allow better understanding of whether NIMSA withdrawal has an impact on pricing at the time of the next procurement of the Mapping Services Agreement.

Question 8—Some OS competitors allege it is able to use its position as a public sector information holder to compete unfairly, either by imposing over-stringent and costly licence conditions or by developing products of its own in direct competition with theirs but without the associated licensing costs. There are further complaints that OS is an effective monopoly, preventing fair and transparent competition in the geographic information market. What is your view of these suggestions?

  37.  We believe that there are a number of risks that result when the trading fund model is imposed on an organisation with a combination of public good and commercial objectives unless strong safeguards are in place. The temptation for government is to rigidly require that commercial activity funds public good objectives: there may be occasions where this works, but this is far from universal. The temptation for the organisation is likely to be to maximise competitive advantage with the risk that this results in exploiting public sector information holder status.

  38.  We believe that Ordnance Survey business models, and licensing controls do give a controlling position over potential commercial competition, for example, in using addressing products, including those generated by local government (though please note our primary desire to see a single, public good system as outlined in response to question 1). We believe that the Office of Fair Trading CUPI Study, the Office of Public Sector Information report and APPSI recommendations all point to this conclusion. For example, APPSI in their recent assessment suggested that Ordnance Survey addresspoint product data do not fall within the public sector information, yet they are provided under crown copyright by an organisation within the public sector.

  39.  It is our view that Ordnance Survey business models restrict the entrance of a wider set of geographic information data providers in several areas of mapping services. The conditions to create a vibrant and competitive market in such information would be of benefit to local government as a major user of the information. Our experience in the Mapping Services Agreement indicates that competitors can, when they secure a market entry, compete on both quality and price with Ordnance Survey, and we would welcome an extension to other areas. Aspects of this issue relating to the citizen's use of geographic information are argued strongly in the recent Prime Ministers Strategy Unit report—"the Power of Information".

  40.  Also, where Ordnance Survey bundle data collection and management costs, data delivery costs and customer support costs into individual product license fees, it has been possible for local government to establish Best Value in the procurement of geographic information and supporting services. The Mapping Service Agreement procurement highlighted that Ordnance Survey data could be tailored, supplied and supported by third party organizations in innovative ways and for potentially better value for money, if it were not for the license and pricing model adopted by Ordnance Survey.






68   The Society of Information Technology Management (SOCTIM) report Planning for ICT: the technology architecture published in 2004 identifies the "use of Geographic Information System packages based on Ordnance Survey and NPLG, linked to operational services such as planning and development control, land charges, national land information service, highways and all addressed based systems such as Council Tax, rents, benefits, electoral register, refuse collection, non-domestic rating and environmental health inspections" as beneficial both in improving customer satisfaction and in improving efficiency through greater accuracy in referencing systems. Back

69   The East Sussex in Figures (ESIF) database is an example of how a local authority is able to draw together a wide range of data geographically-this can be accessed via the East Sussex County Council website. Back

70   An English policy initiative: parallel initiatives exist in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Back

71   The East Sussex County Council Access East Sussex common access fault reporting system initiative is an example, winning an Association of Geographic Information award. Back

72   The Power of Information-Ed Mayo and Tom Steinberg, June 2007. Back

73   Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information publishes review of OPSI recommendations with regard to complaint SO 42/8/4, April 2007 Back

74   Statement by Communities and Local Government on 1 June 2007. The aim of the National Spatial Address Infrastructure (NSAI) project was to provide a single national address database that would be maintained through a partnership approach and a collaborative framework of address and property identifiers. In June 2007 the Department announced it would not be carrying out any further work on the NSAI at this time. Back

75   An English policy initiative. There are parallel initiatives in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales (in the latter, it is Making the ConnectionsBack


 
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