Free Our Data: the blog

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

|In Thursday’s Guardian: want to know where post offices are? Sorry, we can’t (or won’t) tell yoyu

The latest edition of Guardian Technology looks at the peculiar question of the locations of post offices, in “Want to know where the UK’s post offices are? Sorry, you can’t“.

It’s the by-now familiar story: you can get a little data free (the ten nearest post offices to a particular postcode), but the whole lot – no.

Demographer Keith Dugmore has been trying for the past couple of years to get hold of such a list. He runs the Demographics User Group, made up of people who use information such as census returns to make business decisions. A list of post office locations would be of great interest to other retailers, he says. It might also be of use to people publishing online guides, or to campaigners against the current programme to cut the network by 2,500 branches.

As a state-owned company (a subsidiary of Royal Mail), Post Office Ltd is in theory subject to the Freedom of Information Act. “I made a freedom of information request to the Post Office asking if they would be able to supply a single file of all post office addresses in the UK,” Mr Dugmore said.

The answer was no: first because it might have value to competitors; secondly because such a file would have commercial value in itself. He is now considering his next move. He could either appeal to the information commissioner or create his own list by “scraping” data from the Post Office website.

But as the article points out, you could ask now for that dataset from OPSI through the Re-use request service forum – the web channel that has been set up precisely for requests like this. Use it early, use it often. We ought to know what datasets government departments have.

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