Free Our Data: the blog

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


In The Guardian: a year of Free Our Data campaigning: why is the Office for National Statistics free?

And what have we got? You might ask. Plenty of interesting points that there wasn’t enough room to fit in print, in fact (we didn’t get into the matters of other countries which don’t charge for their mapping).

Among a list of “interesting things we’ve learnt in the past year” in A few victories, but the battle goes on in today’s Guardian is one that has been intriguing me ever since the NCeSS event last week.

It’s this: the ONS makes its data available for free. The Ordnance Survey doesn’t. But they’re both dealing with data that are constantly changing.

As the story puts it:

  • Despite being in effect half taxpayer-funded, OS’s position as a trading fund protects it from financial neglect by the Treasury, according to advocates of the model. They argue that OS has to collect data about a constantly changing landscape, and that making it fully taxpayer-funded would put it at the mercy of central funding, which could wane (as happened between the two world wars).
  • The Office for National Statistics, which collects data about constantly changing social elements such as internet use, labour, manufacturing output and so on, is not a trading fund, and makes the majority of its statistics – including demographic data from the 2001 Census – available for free via its website.

So here’s the question: why isn’t ONS a trading fund, if it’s such an effective model?

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