Free Our Data: the blog

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


Cambridge economics report (briefly) debated in Parliament

We note (via theyworkforyou’s excellent email alerts system) that the issue of trading funds – and specifically, the Ordnance Survey model – was briefly debated in the Commons yesterday.

The main protagonists: Iain Wright, who says he is

the Minister for Ordnance Survey responsible for the shareholder relationship between the Department and the agency, dealing with strategic and day-to-day issues arising in connection with its activities, particularly in terms of financial and Government matters. My ministerial colleague the noble Baroness Andrews leads for the Department on issues relating to the purchase of Ordnance Survey products and services.

Robert Key (Con, Salisbury) asks:

there is continuing confusion between [OS’s] public duty and the private competition that it has to have as a trading fund. The pan-government agreement, which regulates how different Government Departments and agencies use Ordnance Survey, came to an end yesterday. We have no news of what is going to be put in its place, so will he tell us? When will the regulatory framework be updated and amended to bring an end to all this confusion, which is getting in the way of Ordnance Survey’s excellent work?

The reply:

In respect of his important point about the pan-government agreement, that was established, as he is aware, to ensure that the Government have access to mapping data in order to develop and implement policy at a reasonable price. We are looking into that, and I will update the House accordingly.

Then more interestingly from David Taylor (Lab, NW Leicestershire):

There is an argument that [OS] information should be made more freely available, free of charge. Has he read the book which was published alongside the Budget, “Models of Public Sector Information via Trading Funds”—quite a racy read—and which rebuts the claim that a move to free data would damage the work of Ordnance Survey? It should be made freely available to citizens of this country, and that can be done in a way that produces funds rather than absorbs them.

The minister’s reply:

As a fellow accountant, I can imagine that I would find it racy as well. [Ah, Parliamentary humour – CA] My hon. Friend raises an important point about the provision of data. He said that Ordnance Survey breaks even as a trading fund. In fact, it provides about £6.2 million in surplus that is then passed back to the public purse via dividends. That is to be encouraged. The business model, with changing market conditions and technology, is being considered and, as Minister with responsibility for Ordnance Survey, I will continue to do so. [Emphasis added – CA]

Interesting: that the Cambridge report is now getting debate time, that the free data model is being considered, and that the minister responsible is considering the business model “with changing market conditions”.

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