Free Our Data: the blog

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

Archive for August, 2009

Wikileaks produces OS confidential briefing to ministers

Thursday, August 27th, 2009

Well, well. Wikileaks, the organisation that has leaked details about Daniel Arap Moi’s finances and UBS’s dealings, has provided something altogether more interesting than the identity of the international man or woman of mystery.

It’s a confidential briefing document by Sir Rob Margetts, chair of Ordnance Survey, Vanessa Lawrence, chief exec of OS, and Charlie Villar (who Google tells us is a member of the Shareholder Executive) to “the minister” – hard to know who but since it talks about various options such as the OpenSpace concept, which was unveiled earlier this year, we assume the minister in question was Iain Wright – else this would hardly be confidential information, would it?

The document – a 22-page PDF – is available from

One very interesting page is p9, which seems to offer a comparison of the “current” trading fund model, the “utility” – is that “free data”? – model, and the “hybrid” model, though not much is made clear about what the hybrid model actually involves. Except that moving to it doesn’t involve any restructuring costs, which seems incredible.

Your opinions welcome: what does it mean? Can this report somehow be the source of Sir Rob’s mysterious “cost the government £500m to £1bn to shift to a free data model” claim? And does that claim – and this briefing – actually stand up to public scrutiny, rather than the minister’s private office?

You’re the public. What do you think?

You cannot charge for property searches, councils told, and you might have to pay some back

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Interesting decision by the Information Commissioner: property searches are environmental data, and as such should be made available to councils under Freedom of Information regulations.

This is pretty big – particularly for estate agents.

Thanks to EPSIPlus forum for the pointer:

As the head of the IPSA noted:

The ICO has published two section 50 rulings today against Local Authorities in England.

East Riding of Yorkshire – The ICO has ruled Building Control and Traffic data is EIR and the Local Authority must make the data available in 35 days.

Stoke City Council – The ICO has ruled Building Control and Traffic data is EIR and the Local Authority must make the data available in 35 days.

Failure to comply by either Local Authority may result in the ICO making written certification of this fact to the High Court (or the Court of Session in Scotland) pursuant to section 54 of the Act and may be dealt with as a contempt of court. Data must be made available under the pricing terms of EIR. The ICO is not satisfied by the ‘made available under another means’ (CON29R requests) and the payment of a full Local Authority fee. This is because the Charging Regulations (CPSR) acts as a barrier to the data.

The Property Search Industry will now seek reimbursement of fees paid under duress / under protest. (emphasis added).

Now, that could get rather interesting. And for cash-strapped councils, not being able to charge for property searches (or even parts of them, but particularly the environmental data side of them) is going to make a difference. If anyone knows how much councils make from those charges, we’d be very interested to know more.

Free our data, says Lords info committee

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Simon Dickson has picked up what we were remiss in missing: the Lords Information Committee. He describes it as Free our data, says Lords info committee.

He notes that its final report

couldn’t really have been more in favour of the free our bills [as pushed by They Work For You, which would show you details of bills in progress in committee] agenda.

A key recommendation, among those listed in its listed in the press release:

(I’ve copied and pasted these from All credit to Simon for what’s below, apart from any mistakes in the stuff in [italics], which are my additions

  • information and documentation related to the core work of the House of Lords should be produced and made available online in an open standardised electronic format (not pdf) that enables people outside Parliament to analyse and re-use the data
  • the integration of information on Parliament’s website, eg biographical info on Members to be linked to their voting record, their register of interests, questions tabled, etc [basically, like They Work For You]
  • Bills should be presented on Parliament’s website in a way that makes the legislative process more transparent and easier to understand [=Free Our Bills]
  • an online system enabling people to sign up to receive electronic alerts and updates about particular Bills [rather like planningalerts, but for legislation]
  • a requirement on the Government to start producing Bills in an electronic format which both complies with “open standards” and is readily reusable [a bit like the Conservatives’ suggestions]
  • an online database to increase awareness of Members’ areas of expertise
  • an online debate to run in parallel with a debate in the Lords Chamber
  • greater access to Parliament for factual filming
  • a trial period during which voting in the Lords is filmed from within the voting lobbies
  • all public meetings of Lords committees to be webcast with video and audio
  • a review of the parliamentary language used in the House of Lords to make it easier for people outside the House to understand

Let’s see how it pans out. Is there time for this to be implemented before the election? Or would either of the main parties put it onto their agenda – or even manifesto?

UKHo selling off its SeaZone subsidiary: but why?

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

The UK Hydrographic Office is selling off SeaZone Solutions – but hurry, hurry, the bids must be in by midday Friday.

What’s SeaZone?

SeaZone Solutions Limited (“SeaZone”) specialises in the market for Marine GIS data, software and services, and is the world leader in the provision of Marine datasets. The business supports numerous public and private sector organisations across a range of planning, regulatory, engineering and asset management activities. The business is primarily focused on the UK Marine GIS market, has turnover of c.£1.0m and employs approximately 20 people.

And why the sale?

Acting for the Secretary of State in his capacity as sole shareholder in Admiralty Holdings Limited (“AHL”), SeaZone’s parent, the UKHO invites applications from innovative organisations to develop opportunities in the Marine GIS market through the SeaZone business and brand. The UKHO is seeking a strategic partner which can provide commercial expertise, product development, market & sales channel capabilities and investment to capitalise on the market opportunities in the Marine GIS sector.

This will move through to a shortlist of proposals by September 21, with a plan to complete the transaction by October 2009.

You can also get the SeaZone financial statements for 2007 and 2008 (PDF).

Amidst all the talk of UKHO privatisation, it’s intriguing to see this happening. Why sell SeaZone? What can’t UKHO do with it?

It is expected that increased development activity in the energy sector and marine legislation will continue to drive the market for Marine GIS and provide the business with significant future opportunities in the UK and overseas.

Possibly it’s that “overseas” angle that UKHO doesn’t quite want to grapple with. Is this a sign of UKHO focussing more tightly on things, or is it just piecemeal privatisation? Your comments and guidance on how this fits into the wider matrix of things – and especially into the free data debate – are really welcome here.

International man/woman of mystery is: international; from an NMA

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

The OS has responded to our latest FOI request to try to establish more details about its international expert. And what do you know, they really are international.

And they used to work for a national mapping association (but not OS.)

Keep your ideas coming….

1) Is the “internationally recognised expert (a) British or (b) a foreign national?
A foreign national.

2) Is he or she a (a) currently employed in a UK academic institution, or (b) employed in the UK, or (c) employed in a UK government department, or (d) a UK government agency or trading fund.

3) If so, which institution, business/fund or arm of Government?
Not applicable.

4) Has the person retired from any of those listed in (2)?
Not applicable.

5) Has the person ever been employed by the Ordnance Survey and if so on what basis (eg full-time, continuous part-time, etc)?

6) Has the person ever been employed by a foreign National Mapping Association, and if so on what basis (eg full-time, continuous part-time, etc)?
Yes; full-time.

(This would be why Ed Parsons – well, we had to ask – and Dave Lovell, executive director of Eurogeographics, have turned out not to be the person. Only 5,750m people to go then…)