Memorandum by the Local Government Data
The Local Government Data Unit Wales (Data Unit)
is an organisation which reflects the interests of local government
in Wales and collects local government data for the Welsh Assembly
Government (WAG). The Data Unit is wholly owned by the Welsh Local
Government Association (WLGA) and operates under service level
agreements with the WLGA and Statistical Directorate of WAG.
The Data Unit seeks to improve the availability
of data for Wales to improve local government and public services
for the people in Wales. To this end, part of the remit is the
use of geographical information products to improve the "legibility"
of activities by linking people to place.
Although Ordnance Survey is established as a
trading agency under the Communities and Local Government Committee,
the activities of the DCLG are virtually all devolved to the WAG.
It thus appears as an anachronism that a Department with no authority
in Wales is the major provider of geographic information, providing
the WAG with limited input to the Department that regulates one
of it's major suppliers.
Question 1In 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?
The set up of OS as a trading agency muddies
the waters as regard the public interest in the survey and it's
development of geographic products, and the use of those products
in the public interest. The question to be asked is what element
of the work of OS is solely in the public interest (not being
commercial in nature and analogous to "national statistics"),
what is commercial material used in the public interest and finally,
what is commercial?
The need to ask those questions implies that
there does need to be some definition of the boundaries of the
public interest work of OS.
It does seem illogical that the Treasury and,
DCLG and devolved administrations distribute funds to further
the governance of Britain, yet these are recovered through fees
charged by a government trading agent and returned to the Treasury.
This only costs the public purse each time a financial transaction
needs to be made. With pressure to reduce expenditure from the
public purse, it seems more logical to extract a fund at source,
to cover governmental use of the geographic material from OS.
This reduces the administrative overhead, maintains a real cost
to government payable as a fee to OS (to avoid anticompetitive
accusations) and leave government free to maximise their use of
geographic products in the interest of the citizens.
Question 2In 2002, the Select Committee
also identified "a clear need for some form of independent
arbitration so that conflicts could be resolved"" between
Ordnance Survey and it's partners and customers. To what extent
has that position changed in the intervening five years?
Although OPSI is the guardian of the Crown Copyright,
it is far from clear whether they have the influence or authority
to arbitrate between OS customers or partners. Indeed, in a recent
dispute, the authority was disputed by an appeal to APPSI.
During this period an OFT report 
was critical of the way OS handled it's commercial products.
In the light of these reports it seems clear
that an independent arbitrator with authority is needed. That
does not preclude existing players, but must have authority to
Question 3What is your assessment of the
UK Geographic Panel's operation since its introduction in 2005?
Judgement must be reserved until the GI Strategy
document is put into the public domain. The requirement is a coherent
strategy, based on good evidence with a clear timed action plan
where activities are allocated with responsibility for delivery.
There are also problems with Ministerial responsibility to accommodate
devolved issues and the cross cutting nature of geographic information.
As the DCLG is the sponsoring organisation of the GI Panel and
most of DCLGs activities are devolved, it seems inappropriate
for the panel to be located in that department.
There will be issues of the effectiveness of
a "UK" strategy document on devolved administrations
with differing policy objectives, but the leadership is welcomed.
Other than the GI Strategy, little has been
seen from that Panel. Local Government in Wales has so far little
understanding of the work of the Panel and the possible implications
to their work.
Question 4The 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 of Geographic Information,
Ordnance Survey and a private sector representative. Is the current
panel's membership sufficiently balanced with three private sector
representatives among its 12 members?
The balance of commercial interest is not as
much an issue as the low representation of local government, which
arguably is one of the biggest users of geographic information
in the public interest. SOLACE is the only body solely representing
local government interests.
If there is an issue with the commercial sector,
it is that it is all with Ordnance Survey. It is important they
are represented, but perhaps other commercial interest could be
added to improve the interest in innovation in a wider environment.
This could dilute some central government representation, but
if that representation is provided as cross-cutting, rather than
a vested interest this should not be an issue for departments
and could improve effectiveness.
Question 5In a memorandum to the Committee
during it's recent inquiry into DCLG's Annual Report 2006, the
Government said that the ending of NIMSA means " there is
no distinction for Ordnance Survey 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 advisor to Ministers on "all aspects of survey,
mapping and geographic information?
There is an obvious issue of conflict of interest
with the head of a commercial organisation advising a Minister.
However, this particular situation is well known and in the public
domain, which perhaps reduces the risk in this case. The head
of Ordnance Survey has obvious expertise to give to government
and perhaps, having commercial insight, is more likely to take
a further reaching view to promote innovation.
Question 6What impact will the ending of
NIMSA have on rural mapping?
This is a particular issue for Wales which has
the highest proportion, of any home nation, of it's population
in areas designated "rural". The issue is, to what standard
will OS maintain the geographic products in sparse rural areas?
The impact of any new development has a disproportionate effect
on areas with little intrinsic development, so the currency of
products is important. This is more important as Wales does not
have a land use data base and the OS MasterMap product has obvious
Local authorities are obliged by law to develop
road names and numbers,
but need to relate any up-to-date address system to physical locations
on the ground, for which mapping is essential.
There are so many cross cutting implications
for administrative boundary geography, rural baseline mapping
and address information in rural areas. This was shown during
the foot-and-mouth outbreak during the 2001 census period and
will be so should an epidemic situation occur again.
Question 7Will the procurement of necessary
services be more expensive for local authorities now that Ordnance
Survey is not providing them under NIMSA?
This will not be known until 2009 for local
government, when the current MSA concludes. The difficulties of
agreeing a commercial deal is illustrated by the PGA not being
concluded to the project timetable.
Question 8Some Ordnance Survey competitors
allege it is able to use it's position as a public sector information
holder to compete unfairly, either by imposing over-stringent
and costly license conditions or by developing products of its
own in direct competition with theirs but without the associated
licensing costs. There are further complaints that Ordnance Survey
is an effective monopoly, preventing fair and transparent competition
in the geographic information market. What is your view of these
OS started their trading position with an historic
portfolio developed from the public purse, but have developed
new products by investing from their trading fund built from that
There have been accusations of anti-competitive
behaviour by OS, but this must be judged on the outcomes to the
investigations following the complaints. However, that assumes
an effective controlling regimen is in place (see question 2).
From a local government point of view, it seems
inequitable that material provided free becomes a chargeable product
when presented back to local government as embedded data in OS
and Royal Mail data sets.
OS has invested in MasterMap and it could be
argued that the level of investment has been so high that it has
shut other possible producers out of the market. The effect of
this will be evident during the next round of negotiations for
mapping products. The issue that is of considerable concern to
those using OS products is the intellectual property rights (IPR)
demanded by OS over products derived using material from OS, but
not embedding that material in the product. Thus any data set
produced by local authorities for it's citizens should be destroyed
if that local authority moved from OS the products that were used
during it's creation. This is clearly unreasonable for the citizens
and British local government as a whole. At present OS does not
offer any legacy license agreements to reflect the value gained
from their products in the past, but not dependent on current
Ordnance Survey is an organisation with good
products. There are issues with control of that organisation with
regard to the public interest and competition. There are issues
with the aggressive commercial stance taken by an organisation
originating from publicly funded material.
In Wales there are particular issues of rurality
and language that need special consideration and are not always
76 http://www.epsiplus.net/epsiplus/cases/decision_of_the_office_of_public_sector_information_so_42_8_4_13_july_2006) Back
section 64 of the Towns Improvement Clauses Act 1847 and section
21 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1907. Back