Free Our Data: the blog

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


Ordnance Survey gets its lobbying in against INSPIRE

A long interview in the Times details Vanessa Lawrence’s discomfort at the idea of INSPIRE, which would compel government organisations in Europe to swap their data for free – and in effect compel them to drop any system whereby they charge for intellectual property.

OS has been doing some subtle lobbying (read the long Daily Mail hagiography of the organisation here; interesting how it makes so much of the funding model “that means it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a thing”) recently.

INSPIRE, though, might be immune to lobbying. That hasn’t stopped a right-wing group called the Taxpayers’ Alliance from picking up the piece and suggesting that OS is talking the truth, and that it’s absurd to suggest that OS should be publicly funded, instead of taking funds from public organisations.

However, although the Taxpayers’ Alliance seems to fight rather shy of finding out what other taxpayers think (there’s no way to comment on its blog), Heather Brooke at Your Right To Know (who deals with Freedom of Information and related issues) spears it neatly in her own post on the YRTK blog:

Ordnance Survey is a monopoly, so claims about profitability, product quality, dividends and running costs are moot – we have nothing to compare them against. Would it be just as good value if the OS cost £200 million to run and paid a 8% dividend? Economic theory gives us a good idea of what actually to expect – price maximisation, inefficency and stagnation. It’s easy to turn a profit when you got your capital assets for free and can charge whatever you feel like.

Meanwhile, INSPIRE is going to be voted on November 21. Counting down..

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