Free Our Data: the blog

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

So what is Inspire, and why is the UK lobbying against it?

In this week’s Guardian Technology, Mike Cross gives an overview of Europe’s INSPIRE directive, and explains why the UK government in particular is lobbying hard against the zero-pricing rules in it.

…Dr Max Craglia of the European commission’s joint research centre in Ispra, Italy, [notes] there is a two-metre difference between Belgium and the Netherlands in the official height of low tide – essential data for flood prevention. The anomalies multiply when many national agencies and tiers of government are involved, as can be the case when protecting stretches of coastline from damage.

…Nearly everyone supports the idea. But making geographical data freely available would destroy the business model of agencies such as Ordnance Survey, which funds activities by making a “profit” on sales of maps and geographical data. The OS warns of the threat in its latest annual report, published on Tuesday.

…The UK is unusually committed to charging users for data rather than funding its dissemination from taxation. One expert places Britain at the extreme end of the spectrum, while its system of crown copyright is unique in Europe.

(The OS’s latest reports, by the way, show a surplus of £9.58m on revenues of £118,356m. The capital employed – which John Bourn of the NAO still disagrees with, since he thinks the OS should capitalise its National Geographic Database – is given as £64m (if I’m reading the right column – tangible plus intangible assets). That’s a ROCE of 14.9%. Even if you add in Bourn’s estimated £50m for the NGD value, you still get a ROCE of nearly 7.5%. One has to think that the OS isn’t struggling yet.)

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