Free Our Data: the blog

A Guardian Technology campaign for free public access to data about the UK and its citizens


In today’s Guardian: who will address the postcode mess?

In today’s Technology Guardian, Michael Cross examines the Royal Mail’s postcode address file – such a valuable item, if it could only be used well.

Royal Mail

is coy about how much the Postcode Address File costs to maintain and how much it receives from licensing, or even whether it runs at a profit.

Licensing arrangements for the Postcode Address File are only one part of the addressing imbroglio. Even if the Royal Mail were to give the database away to all comers, addressing would still be messy.

For a start, the postcode file has big gaps. According to Barr, it holds only 60% of buildings in England – the Royal Mail is not interested in structures such as churches, which do not receive mail. Because of the purpose for which they were set up, postcodes may bear little relevance to reality – the initial component, the “post town”, relates to the nearest sorting office rather than the nearest town.

As Ed Parsons (chief technology officer of Ordnance Survey) noted on this blog, the flaws mean that there are three databases in operation – the RM PAF, the OS’s address layer, and the National Land and Property Gazetteer (I think that’s right on the latter).

And why?

This chaos arises directly from the UK government’s policy of encouraging state-owned bodies, which are usually monopolies in their fields, to treat information as an asset to be exploited commercially. Free Our Data argues that this resource should be funded by taxation and made available for free to all takers, to stimulate a vibrant knowledge economy.

Some heads really need to be knocked together, we think.

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