Free Our Data: the blog

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


UK Hydrographic Office decision: executive summary (here)

We’ve got hold of the Ministry of Defence’s executive summary on why the UK HYdrographic Office is not being privatised, and essentially being left as a trading fund.

You can read or download the document from the Free Our Data site (http://www.freeourdata.org.uk/docs/UKHOexecsummary.pdf) – it’s 42KB, so not long.

The principal threat to UKHO’s current model, which is selling paper charts, is set out at the start..

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) are seeking to mandate digital navigation (an announcement is anticipated around 2010). The UKHO already produces a digital chart series for UK waters fulfilling immediate UK obligations. However, IMO mandation will ultimately cause significant reductions in revenue from its international paper chart series. Additionally the Royal Navy has started conversion to digital navigation, and seeks full coverage by 2011. To support the MOD requirement for international digital charts and ensure financial viability, UKHO must rapidly develop a capability to produce new digital products and services for the global market.

Interesting question: how rapidly can it do that with the limited capital available to a trading fund? Privatisation would give it a chunk of money – but lose the control that the MOD clearly thinks is important. Making it a free data provider (we’d suggest) would mean a bigger capital cost – but then you’d not have to prop it up.

As the final paragraph says…

If the margins and volumes available to the Trading Fund from the evolving digital market proved unsustainable, MOD would have to consider the options for central funding to discharge treaty obligations or in the extreme, transfer critical functions to Government departments. This could lead to UKHO becoming a drain on, rather than a contributor to, the UK Defence budget. Delivery of UKHO’s new digital products is critical to its future success.

The full report isn’t being released – which hasn’t pleased some. More in the Guardian’s Technology section this Thursday.

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