Free Our Data: the blog

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


Power of Information authors rebuff Ordnance Survey over “free maps” article

Today’s Guardian carries a letter from Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo, the authors of the Power of Information report, responding to the “response” article in the Guardian last week by Scott Sinclair, head of PR for Ordnance Survey, which was headlined “These maps cost us £110m. We can’t give them away for free.” (We’ve done our own analysis of it.)

The letter is short and worth quoting in full:

Scott Sinclair’s defence against the Guardian’s Free Our Data Campaign (Response, October 4) frames the debate about public-sector information in a wilfully misleading way.

The Ordnance Survey is a public body, and some public bodies do, on the orders of politicians, give things away “for free”. The NHS provides services in the order of £100bn, and does indeed give them away mostly free of charge.

The key issue about charging is whether the UK would benefit more in net terms from the more vibrant information market that more open information would bring than it would lose through having to find an additional £60m per year. This is a serious question that the Treasury is currently looking into, having accepted the recommendation in the independent review we co-authored for the government earlier this year.

As a body committed to the public good, we hope the the board of the Ordnance Survey will soon take up a more constructive approach than this article written on its behalf.

Tom Steinberg and Ed Mayo

Authors, Power of Information review

A couple of points to note:

  • I didn’t solicit this letter – I wasn’t aware it was going to be published. Which made it a nice breakfast surprise;
  • rather than the £110m that OS quotes for its required costs, this suggests £60m as the real “cost” – the extra taxpayer funding that would be needed (£110m to run OS, but a saving of £50m on licences within government);
  • they refer to the trading fund review, which we hear is being carried out by Rufus Pollock – but we don’t know what the terms of reference are. If anyone does know, we’d be interested to hear.
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