Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
TUESDAY 19 MARCH 2002
KEEBLE MP, MR
300. You say you have not got a closed mind,
but what else are you contemplating?
(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 can be the return on capital target, 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.
301. Is privatisation ruled out?
(Ms Keeble) I am very much opposed to OS being privatised.
302. That was not the question you were asked.
(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.
303. And you are personally against it as well?
(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?
304. I do not see why the EU should be seeking
to obtain competency in this area.
(Ms Keeble) I am not an expert on this part of the
EU but I am told that it is looking at this area.
305. Are we telling them to back off?
(Ms Keeble) I think it is about basic citizens' rights.
I think my officials are more involved in the negotiations than
(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
(In the absence of the Chairman Mrs Dunwoody was called to
306. Mr Capell, you are taking a number of decisions
without any very clear view why.
(Mr Capell) I do not think so.
307. 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.
(Ms Keeble) I take your point. I would just say that
I have only fairly recently been made aware of this particular
308. 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
(Ms Keeble) We will do that.
309. 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?
(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.
310. 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?
(Ms Keeble) I have looked at the different optionsI
have to say not in huge detailand I cannot think of one
where those two were specifically merged. Was it the Australian
one that you were looking at?
311. I am not quite sure which one it was.
(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.
312. What makes us so different from other countries?
(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.
313. 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.
(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
mannercertainly in the case of OS in an outstanding mannerI
do not see the need then to merge it with another organisation
which has got quite a different function.
314. You are convinced that it is not a matter
of dogs in the manger?
(Ms Keeble) How do you mean?
315. Just wanting to retain their independence
(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
316. Is it not true that the Quinquennial Review
raised the question of what they call "wasteful and largely
(Ms Keeble) Of what, of a merger?
317. Between the Land Registry and OS.
(Ms Keeble) In terms of merging?
318. 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
(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.
319. Is a Pan Government Service Level Agreement
going to help to achieve greater value for money?
(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.