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Archive for the 'Ordnance Survey' Category

Ordnance Survey provides redacted version of its study into its financial organisation

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Ordnance Survey responded to our FOI request for publication of its study into itself and the best financial organisation for itself.

And in these times when MPs’ expenses are redacted, of course OS isn’t going to let us see everything.

That’s why the document, which I’ve uploaded as a PDF (though it’s originally a TIFF – apparently a scan of the paper document once the black marker pen had been wielded), is full of lacunae.

After some struggles (apologies) it’s now available as a PDF (3.7MB).

Have a look for yourself and see what strikes you as interesting.

This isn’t the final version of what we’ll get, however. In its response to me, OS says

Please see attached a redacted version of the International Comparison of Geographical Information Trading Models – Study report (ref: 71171). The report was commissioned by the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Iain Wright MP, formed part of an input to the Trading Funds Assessment undertaken by the Shareholder Executive on behalf of HM Treasury and the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (now Business, Innovation and Skills).

As you are aware this is an interim report while we wait for approval from the countries/agencies, who took part in the study, to release information related to them. The extension date for the next version of the report is 23 July 2009.

We’ll compare the two, of course. But it’s likely there will still be stuff cut out because it’s too sensitive for us poor souls.

OS first response to FOI questions: who did it talk to, and who helped? (Updated)

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

Ordnance Survey responded today to our FOI request. The redacted financial study is expected later today, but first here are the organisations that it talked to in deciding whose model to adopt. Or not adopt.

Here’s the text of the FOI response.

The report about which these question were raised, was commissioned by the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Iain Wright MP, and formed part of an input to the Trading Funds Assessment undertaken by the Shareholder Executive and HM Treasury.

1. Who or what was the “outside help”?

With regard to the International Comparison of Geographical Information Trading Models Study, outside help was provided by senior officials of those Institutions contacted.

In the case of the United States of America, as senior officials of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) were unavailable, Mr. David Cowen, Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina, kindly provided us with an in-depth overview of the state of public sector GI data in the United States, including USGS. Mr Cowan is a former chair of the Mapping Science Committee of the United States National Research Council and is chair of the National Research Council’s Committee for the study of Land Parcel Databases.

The document was also reviewed by an internationally recognised expert in Geographical Information and National Mapping who agreed with the analysis and conclusions.

2. Which “equivalent organisations” were examined for the study?

There are no wholly equivalent organisations to Ordnance Survey, given its range of scales of mapping and other activities. Hence a representative sample of eight National Mapping Agencies or their closest equivalents were examined during the study. The sample included organisations with a wide range of data pricing policies: free, partial cost recovery (recovery of data dissemination costs), total cost recovery (recovery of data collection plus dissemination costs) and market price (cost recovery plus trading margin).

The overseas examples studied were:

Australia PSMA (Public Sector Mapping Agencies)
Canada Natural Resources Canada
France: IGN (Institut Geographique National)
Netherlands Kadaster
Norway Statens Kartverk
New Zealand LINZ (Land Information New Zealand)
Sweden Landmäteriet
United States USGS (United States Geological Survey) – via Mr David Cowan.

3. Which agencies did OS examine for the study?

IGN, Kadaster, Statens Kartverk and Landmäteriet have Agency status within their respective Governments.

4. Which agencies did the “outside help” examine for the study?

As indicated above, the outside help for the International Comparisons Study was provided by senior officials from the National Mapping Agencies examined in the Study, together with Mr Cowan and the internationally recognised expert.

And finally…

Please note that your enquiry has been processed to Freedom of Information guidelines. To the extent that the public interest (section 17) applies, we have determined that in all the circumstances of the case, the public interest has been met with the full provision of all information in this instance.

Update: Steven Feldman, who has been consulting for OS on how to get wider adoption of its OpenSpace API on its GeoVation initiative. Quoth Feldman (in the comments below): “We expect to go public on what we have planned for GeoVation in the next couple of weeks, watch my blog or mail me if you want to get a mail from me when we kick off.” (We apologise for the earlier error.)

, says he is not the “internationally recognised expert” mentioned by OS. We were going to ask but he beat us to it. The search goes on…

FOI request for OS to publish study delivered: the clock is ticking..

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Thanks to whatdotheyknow – the very public site where you can make Freedom of Information requests, assisted by MySociety (which previously brought you theyworkforyou and publicwhip, which track what Parliamentarians do in their work) – we have now filed our FOI request for the publication of the study that led OS to conclude that free data models don’t work.

The page is at and the request – which has to be answered by June 23 – is as follows:

On May 12 2009 Sir Rob Margetts, chairman of OS, said in a public
speech that “We did, with outside help, a review of equivalent
organisations around the world” in determining the effects of a
free-data model, mixed model or private model on OS’s future

I request the publication of all parts of the review that do not
contain commercial-in-confidence data, and the separate publication
of a full version of the review with commercial-in-confidence data

Very much looking forward to this.

Which foreign map organisations did OS visit last year for its study?

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

An interesting question by Caroline Spelman: where did Ordnance Survey staff go in 2008?

Why might that be interesting? Because OS did a study of free data and other funding models last year as part of the preparation of its own internal study on which model would be best for the future. Would it be a free data model, would it be full private, would it be pretty much like the one it has? You may be able to guess. (Or read Sir Rob Margett’s speech as I recorded it. Or watch the OS version of it – they chopped out the detail of his speech and his assertions about cost to the government.)

(Apparently there was a “brisk” question-and-answer session. My question about derived data didn’t make it into the video.)

Now here’s the document answering Ms Spelman’s question. I’ve highlighted a few answers in bold. Can you guess why?

And does anyone know what funding models the mapping agencies of Finland, Canada, New Zealand and Estonia (Estonia??) operate?

Plus – have I missed any? There is of course one country missing from that list which should have been visited but wasn’t. Interesting to know why…

Countries visited by Ordnance Survey staff in 2008 (original:






Representing Ordnance Survey and United Kingdom at an international conference on geographic information



Participation in a technical working group on the INSPIRE Directive


Participation in technical working group on the INSPIRE Directive


UK Delegate to International Cartographic Association Conference


Technical participation in Semantic Technology Conference


Technical participation in European Semantic Technology Conference 2008



Keynote speech by Director General, representing UK at Middle East Survey Technology Conference



Participation in Geographic Information awareness event in the European Parliament


Technical participation in Mercator print equipment User Group Conference, sharing best practice


Technical participation on behalf of UK in European Parliament meeting on Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES)


Technical meeting with European Commission


Technical meeting with European Commission (Directorate on General Information Society and Media)


Representing Ordnance Survey at European Centre for Public Affairs conference


Technical meeting with team drafting the implementing rule for European Commission on the INSPIRE Directive


Technical meeting with the UK Permanent Representation Team


Technical meeting on the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS)


Participation in EuroGeographics management meeting


Technical participation in European Reference Framework Conference (EUREF) 2008


Participation in European Public Sector Information (ePSI) conference



Technical meeting with National Resources Canada


Technical meeting of Geographic Information Web Networks (Geoweb)



UK Delegate to the International Society for Photogrammetric and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) conference.



UK Representation (including presentation by Director General) at EuroGeographics General Assembly 2007



Technical participation in meeting on the INSPIRE Directive


Technical participation in meeting of the International Standards Organisation Technical Committee (ISO TC211)



Client visit Korec – supplier of surveying equipment


Attendance at Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (Solace) conference


Transit departure airport for return from Dublin conference



Technical meeting with National Land Board ‚ exchanging best practice and fact finding.



Technical participation in meeting of the Business Interoperability Group of EuroGeographics


Technical meeting with Finnish Land Survey‚ exchanging best practice and fact finding.


Visit to supplier to discuss paper stocks for printing paper maps.



Representing Ordnance Survey at a EuroGeographics business meeting


Technical participation in meeting on the INSPIRE Directive


Representing Ordnance Survey at a EuroGeographics business meeting


UK Delegate to the International Cartographic Association Workshop on Generalisation and Multiple Representation, and the Spatial Data Handling (SDH) Conference.


Business and sales attendance at the International property trade Conference.



Technical meeting with CityGML ‚ regarding the production of 3D City Models


Technical participation in a EuroGeographics Business Interoperability Group meeting


Sales attendance at the Frankfurt Book Fair


Technical attendance at CeBit Conference – Information and Digital Technology


Technical participation in the Spatial Cognition 2008 conference, including participation in a workshop designing maps for orientation.


Technical and Business participation in an Open Geospatial Consortium meeting.


Technical participation at a 3D Special Interest Group meeting at University of Bonn, supporting Ordnance Survey’s contribution to the creation of the CityGML data format.


Technical participation in the Spatial Cognition 08 conference


Technical visit to the DRUPA printing equipment exhibition ‚ for fact finding.


Pan-European conference on Geographical Information related matters.


Technical participation in a meeting of the pan-European EuroRoadS Project Management Board.



Technical attendance at international technology analysis “Canalys” Conference



Technical visit to Supplier


Technical visit to Supplier



Technical and business participation in a meeting of Open Geospatial Consortium Technical Committee


Technical participation in a working group on TRI-Partite multimedia Object Description (TRIPOD) at Cantinetta

Technical participation in International conference on knowledge engineering – EKAW



Technical presentation to the European / Japanese Conference on Information Modelling and knowledge bases



Technical participation in a meeting on TRIPOD



UK Delegate and presentation by Director General on “Perspectives on the challenges facing the geospatial industry; a view from a National Mapping Agency”.



Technical meeting with the European Commission (Directorate on General Information Society and Media on public sector information)


Technical participation in a meeting of the European Commission on Geographic Information Systems


Technical and sales participation in the “Apply Serious Gaming Conference” related to the use of high specification geographic information by the gaming industry.


Technical participation in a meeting on TRIPOD


Technical participation in an Ontology Web Language Experiences and Directions workshop



Representing Ordnance Survey at EuroGeographics business meeting



Technical participation in Urban Land Institute housing affordability seminar


Representing the Ordnance Survey and the UK the Director General gave a keynote speech at GIN Congress


Technical participation in Workflow and Production Management Technology Conference 08


Airport for technical meeting on the development of the INSPIRE Directive at Hague


Technical participation at the 3d GeoInfo 2007 conference. Furthering expertise and knowledge of 3D data collection and systems.


Technical meeting on the INSPIRE Directive


Technical participation in Data Quality Workshop at ITC, Enschede


Research meeting with AND (Automotive Navigation Design) on use of Ordnance Survey data in navigation solutions.

New Zealand


Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey at an international conference on conceptual modelling and to visit LINZ (Land Information New Zealand), the national mapping and cadastre agency of New Zealand.



Technical Participation in meeting of Euro Spatial Data Research (SDR)



Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey, the Director General gave a keynote speech on geographic information and national decision making at Elblag Conference



Representing Ordnance Survey at EuroGeographics business meeting



Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey, the Director General gave a keynote speech at EuroGeographics meeting


Representing Ordnance Survey at business Meeting



Technical participation at conference on the INSPIRE Directive



Technical and business participation in Barcelona Euro SDR meeting


Technical participation and sharing of best practice in Photogrammetric Digital Camera user forum


Technical participation at 3GSM Congress


Technical participation at meeting of ORCHESTRA – European collaborative research project on spatial data infrastructure


A four month secondment to the Instituto Geogr√°fico Nacional (IGN) Spain to gain a better understanding of how Spatial Data Infrastructures can be implemented, both organisationally and technically. This was in return for a secondment of an IGN expert to Ordnance Survey in 2007.



Technical participation in pan European technical project work associated with INSPIRE legislation


Technical participation in Mercator print equipment User Group Conference, sharing best practice


Technical participation at conference on the INSPIRE directive


UK delegate at Federation International des Geometries (FIG) Conference


Technical participation at Tobii Conference



Technical and business visit to Leica Geosystems


Two visits to ETH Zurich University, one regarding the quality assurance of 3D buildings and attendance of a conference at ETH presenting Ordnance Survey work and best practice on the capture of 3D buildings.



Technical participation and representation of Ordnance Survey at the Usability Professionals Association Conference


Technical participation at Vital Vision Conference


Technical participation and sharing of best practice at Association for Manufacturing Excellence Conference


Technical participation at GI Science conference


Technical participation in international conference in geographic information


Sharing of best practice at Conference on SAP systems in Human Resource models

Salt Lake City

Technical participation in conference and workshops at GIScience 2008 ‚ sharing expertise of geographic information science and geographic information systems.

San Diego

Representing Ordnance Survey at BAE System user conference

San Diego

Technical participation at the ESRI conference on GIS and mapping software

San Francisco

Technical and business participation at the Oracle user conference

San Francisco

Technical and business participation at the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Workshop

San Francisco

Technical and business participation at Where 2.0 Conference.


Technical participation in discussions at ION GNSS 2008


Technical meeting with Microsoft on the use of Ordnance Survey data.

St. Louis

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey at Open Geospatial Consortium meeting

St. Louis

Representing the UK and Ordnance Survey, the Director General held a technical meeting with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency


Technical participation in OWLED / Washington Workshop

OS chairman’s speech: internal study shows “free” OS would cost government 500m-1bn pounds – but won’t publish

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

The following is the text – as captured in shorthand contemporaneously – of a speech by Sir Rob Margetts, chairman of Ordnance Survey on Tuesday May 12. It is not complete but does capture the major themes and quotations.

The context is that Sir Rob was explaining to an invited audience, including many existing customers of OS, how the new “hybrid” strategy had been determined as the best one for its future development. He took some pains to emphasise that the “free data” model had not been rejected out of hand; but that instead a special study had been commissioned to investigate it.

This is my shorthand notes of what was said. My own comments are at the end.

There were major issues affecting the sustainability of OS as it goes through its proposed strategy.

We examined the complete range of options very impartially and objectively. That includes the free data, utility model where you would make data available to anybody [for free]. We examined the fully commercial model.. and alternatives within that range.

Our study of the utility [free data] model was done because some hold that that is a good strategy, and some of us weren’t indifferent to it. Some [of the study team] going in thought it could be interesting.

The study was fully costed for the government, calculating the costs of change to the residual value.

We came to conclusion that the cost to government in the first five years would be between £500m and £1 billion. That wasn’t the only reason that we discarded it. We did, with outside help, a review of equivalent organisations around the world.

We wanted sustainability and high [data] quality and came to the conclusion that at nearly every organisation that had gone to free data model, the quality had declined and that users and customers were increasingly dissatisfied with the product.

And the attractiveness to staff and recruitment and retention had also reduced. We found no evidence that this model actually worked elsewhere.

Those that work had a user-pays model. We tried to understand and explain why. Think that comes to the responsiveness to needs of the organisation. [ie: the responsiveness of the organisation to needs.]

If customers are required to pay then they specify needs very clearly and give feedback on whether they have got value [for money].

Customer stimulation is a vital part of any organisation because it’s sustainable.

And of course [there’s] recruiting and retaining quality staff.. they want to work for a qulity organisation and respond to real customer needs.

That’s why we didn’t pursue [the free data model] but can affirm that we looked at it in detail.

We also looked at a fully commercial model but weren’t satisfied it would fulfil the fundamental strategy [for OS].

We believe use [of geographical data] has expanded dramatically and changed.. but that potential is still considerably underexploited.

Our No. 1 aim is to improve capacity of OS to assist the exploitation of geographic information and be one of fundamental enablers of that [exploitation] in the UK for social and individual benefit.

With the proviso that by doing that we have to keep a sustainable organisation that not only covers its costs but also has enough left over… about £20m per annum.. to invest in the products that the market needs for customers, whether private individuals or business enterprises.

Commentary: Well, we’re fascinated to learn that OS found that there’s absolutely nobody out there who is making a free data model work. We have already emailed the South African mapping organisation, about which we wrote in 2007, to find out whether they were contacted by OS, and if so what they told them.

We will also pursue Freedom Of Information enquiries to find out which organisations OS spoke to and what their responses were. Since these are all free data models, there can’t be any commercial confidentiality for the foreign organisations, can there?

The “£500m – £1bn” range is extremely wide, and we’d like to see the detailed working. I asked the minister with responsibility for OS, Iain Wright, who was there, if he would order OS to release its full study. He said that if there weren’t any commercial-in-confidence implications… I wonder if we’ll see it? Again, we’ll ready some FOI requests.

There were questions at the end, and one interesting one came from Bob Barr, who pointed out that there is always the possibility of “pay to change” – that when you have a database of 460m features with (to give the statistics that Vanessa Lawrence, OS’s chief executive, read) 5,000 changes daily, why not charge those who are changing it? (We’ve looked at that model before, though I would like to see some more recent Land Registry figures.)

Here’s the question as I recorded it.

Robert Barr: “this hybrid financing.. it seems to be today that payment will be at the point of use. Usually [in other online systems] there’s a model where you pay to change the database. Doesn’t it make sense for data to be paid for where you change it?”

Peter ter Harr of OS: “This is a model we have been looking at. There are advantages and disadvantages. It’s not always the user who pays [in the current model]. There are many OS products which are free at the point of use. It’s the information provider who puts it online who pays. We have been looking at the model in various other countries. It works well in cases where it’s part of the statutory process.”

And that’s it? We really, really need to see that OS internal study, as it contradicts pretty much every study that’s been published. It’s going to be fascinating tracking it down.

One other thing: the cost to the government isn’t quite the same as the benefit to the economy, nor the eventual benefit to the government through taxation. It was the latter (actually, both) that the Cambridge study looked at. We are perfectly happy to generate tweaked versions of the “free data” model that could keep OS charging for some products (such as MasterMap) while freeing other data sets. Now that would be a truly hybrid model.

If anyone has had sight of that OS study, or any part of it, do please drop me an email at Or upload it to Wikileaks and let us know. We think it’s so important it ought to be out there, not locked away in an OS cupboard.

In the Guardian: Ordnance Survey’s future awaits budget; Peoples’ Map launches

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

In the Guardian, Michael Cross notes that Ordnance Survey’s future is quite possibly going to be determined by the Budget.

In Ordnance Survey’s future to be mapped out on budget day, he notes that

The future of British government’s largest digital data business, the mapping agency Ordnance Survey, looks set to enter the mainstream political agenda for the first time in a decade. On budget day, 22 April, the Treasury is expected to release the broad findings of the Shareholder Executive’s review of the “trading fund” model of funding agencies such as Ordnance Survey and the Land Registry.

This is of course the review that Adam Afriyie of the Conservatives demanded the government should publish. A little tardy, one might argue. Why not publish the review when it’s ready, rather than amidst the Budget, when there are a million other things that need far closer examination?

The review is likely to shine a spotlight on anomalies created when government bodies function as businesses in the digital economy. It will present ministers with three choices – outright privatisation, a move to supplying data at marginal cost (“free data”) or splitting the organisation up.


Whatever the findings of the Shareholder Executive’s review, Ordnance Survey is likely to use its ability to generate cash returns as an argument for continuing as a trading fund. However, the agency’s apparent profitability will encourage calls for outright privatisation.

We also note the launch of the Peoples’ Map, which

allows users to create their own maps by drawing over aerial photographs. Getmapping, the company behind the venture, described the product as “the democratisation of the mapping process”.

It’s an intriguing idea, though personally I can’t quite see where its utility comes in; OpenStreetMap already offers an extremely detailed map for all sorts of parts of the world; the Guardian is using OSM to some extent, and some local councils are using it to map their footpaths.

Still, for Peoples’ Map,

A big selling point is simple licensing terms. The company says that maps generated on the system will be free for private non-commercial use apart from a delivery charge of £25. Commercial users will have “fair perpetual licensing arrangements … and entirely free of third party copyright” – a reference to the byzantine intellectual property regime surrounding many products containing OS-derived data.

Ah, yes, OS-derived IP rules. It’s a fascinating subject to which we will return.

Islington: you want a map? You’ll have to pay

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

An intriguing move by Islington Council, which now demands that if you want to download something that has a map in, you pay. At least if that something is part of a planning proposal.

From its Planning Policy page:

Islington’s planning policies are set out in our Unitary Development Plan (UDP) – which was agreed in June 2002. The UDP provides the basis for all the council’s planning decisions. It contains broad strategic policies in part one of the plan, and more detailed policies in part two.

There is also a proposals map which shows areas where specific policies and proposals apply. You can see the text of the UDP on this site, but if you require the proposals map you will have to purchase a copy. [Emphasis added – CA.]

So why has Islington introduced this? (We may have been a little remiss in noticing this – the page says it was last updated on 31 October 2008.)

Could it be because of that famous Ordnance Survey warning of last year, made around that time? Is the council prohibited from providing any sort of map, or perhaps charged each time someone downloads a map? And if the latter is the case, is it making a profit, breaking even, or loss on the transaction?

(The page for the proposals map is confusing too. “click on ‘Interactive Maps’ on the top right hand side of the screen. A new window will open up.” it instructs. However, on my browser – a Firefox clone on a Mac – I don’t get any such “interactive maps” link. Is this a PC-only thing, or has that page just not been updated to keep tabs with the pricier new world? Its last update is the same as the parent page, so it surely can’t be…)

Treasury tightens the screws on OS: will job losses follow?

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Always useful to monitor the written and spoken questions in Parliament: if you use (and who wouldn’t?) you can set up an alert each time a phrase is used in Parliament (either house), or an MP appears, and get taken to the relevant page.

The latest interesting fact to emerge is that Ordnance Survey is expected, for the financial year just ended, to up its return on capital employed (ROCE) from the usual 5.5% to 6%:

Adam Afriyie (Shadow Minister, Innovation, Universities and Skills; Windsor, Conservative): To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what financial return on ordinary activities was expected from Ordnance Survey in the year ending July 2008.

Iain Wright (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Communities and Local Government; Hartlepool, Labour): The financial target for the year ended 31 March 2008 was derived from the three-year target for 2004-05 to 2007-08 set down in the Ordnance Survey Framework Document 2004. This target was to achieve no less than 5.5 per cent. per annum return on capital employed (“ROCE”), averaged over a three-year period, with the return defined as surplus on ordinary activities before interest and dividends.

The target figure for ROCE for the year ended 31 March 2009 was increased to a return of not less than 6 per cent.

(Emphasis added)

That’s interesting, and if we get a moment it might be useful to see what that sort of increase in ROCE means for the OS’s profits and especially costs: we have heard that Vanessa Lawrence, OS’s chief, has warned staff that there might be redundancies in the coming year.

It might seem perverse to you – it does to me – to increase the ROCE demanded from an organisation that relies on third-party sales of its products as a recession bites, which would tend to mean that (a) those third parties are going to have less money to spend (b) some of those third parties might go out of business. “Capital employed” tends to be a fixed number (staff aren’t capital, they’re operating costs), and is hard to change.

OS changes OpenSpace licensing terms in developers’ favour: commercial use now allowed

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Just after our previous post, we find a press release from Ordnance Survey in our inbox:

Ordnance Survey has today unveiled revised terms and conditions for OS OpenSpace, its non-commercial web mapping service.

The OS OpenSpace API (application programming interface) is a freeservice that allows users to build mash-ups of Ordnance Survey mapping. It was launched to the public in January this year and to date has over a thousand registered developers.

(You might note that one thousand isn’t actually a lot of developers in this web day and age.)

The changes to the terms of use reflect the fact the components of the API are now available as a free open-source download – as OSGB Web Map Tools. Available from, the tools allow Ordnance Survey data licensees to build commercial applications for the Web.

At the same time as amending the OS OpenSpace terms in relation to OSGB Web Map Tools, Ordnance Survey has taken the opportunity to make some further changes that aim to provide greater overall clarity.

“Clarity” is one of those words that companies use either when they’ve been caught out doing something wrong, or when they’ve been forced to change something but want to make it look like it was their idea. Wonder which this was?

Key amongst the revisions is the introduction of new definitions of ‘Your Data’ and ‘End User’s Data’ to complement what is already defined as ‘Derived Data’. It is intended that the changes will clarify the position on ownership of each of these types of data, and will set out in clearer terms the various licences that are granted in relation to each of them.

Well, let’s see now…

Unlike OS OpenSpace, the recently launched OSGB Web Map Tools is released under a permissive free licence and does not restrict licensed developers to non-commercial activities or the use of any particular data source. [Emphasis added]

But then again it’s not quite there:

While the new map tools do not give free access to mapping, since the users must hold one of Ordnance Survey’s data licences, it does allow for third-party information to be freely overlaid and displayed.

Then again, if a licence can change once, it can change again. We’ll await developments.

Read the OS Webspace licence; download the tools (after reading the agreement).

Ordnance Survey business model “to be considered”; national geographic strategy coming Tuesday

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The Pre-Budget Report isn’t usually required reading for Free Our Data, but this time around it was, partly because expectations had been raised by the Sunday Times story suggesting that OS and other trading funds were in line for privatisation. (I was doubtful. I just don’t think privatisation is in this administration’s DNA. Everything it’s done with banks, after all, goes in completely the opposite direction.)

Here’s the relevant extract from the PBR (1.7MB PDF)

Re-use of public sector information from trading funds

4.54 The HM Treasury/Shareholder Executive assessment of trading funds has considered the potential for innovation and growth from increasing commercial and other use of public sector information. It will shortly publish some key principles for the re-use of this information, consider how these currently apply in each of the trading funds and how they might apply in the future, and the role of the Office of Public Sector Information in ensuring that Government policy is fully reflected in practice. For the Ordnance Survey, this will involve consideration of its underlying business model. Further details will be announced in Budget 2009. [emphasis added]

As Ed Parsons, former chief technology officer at Ordnance Survey and now a map guru at Google, points out:

This is not about privatisation – this is about how the OS trades.. how it charges for data, and its relationship with other departments. This has been on the cards for a while, although I think the issue with derived data no doubt moved this up the agenda a bit!

Yes, the issue of derived data really has stirred things up within Whitehall. And we hear that on Tuesday the national geographic strategy for the UK – often promised, never yet seen – will be published. That might be interesting too.

Update: we’ve been pointed to some more mentions of OS and other trading funds. Seems the Sunday Times wasn’t completely wrong about some being in line for privatisation – but OS still isn’t.

The relevant section is in Box 6.4 (“Operational Efficiency Programme – Asset strand”), on page 119 of the report. My comments in [italics]

Gerry Grimstone is heading the asset strand of the Operational Efficiency Programme (OEP), and will be working with departments, agencies, and the Shareholder Executive to consider, for a number of Government assets, the potential for alternative business models, commercialisation, new market opportunities and, where appropriate, alternatives to public ownership. The work includes:


• a review of British Waterways’ model for managing its canal-side property portfolio which  will assess how best public value might be delivered from these assets in the medium term; [partial or complete privatisation? What does BW do that needs to be in government hands?]


• options for the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, after a recent study concluded there was no public policy rationale for the Government to own it; [looks like a selloff]


• a strategic review into the future business model of the Ordnance Survey, that will take into account its role as a public sector information provider, together with providing value for money for the taxpayers; [doesn’t look like a selloff because of the “role as a PSI provider”]


• work with the Land Registry to explore ways to improve its operating framework; [again, no selloff; operating frameworks are how you get stuff done, not whether you’re private or not]


• widening the scope of the study of capacity requirements at the Dartford Crossing to include the potential to realise value for the taxpayers and, in addition, continuing to explore options  for the commercialisation of other transport assets; [“realise value” for taxpayers sounds like a selloff]


• a study to explore the potential benefits of alternative future models for the Royal Mint; [unclear]


• reviews of the Met Office, Oil & Pipeline Agency, and Defence Storage & Distribution Agency examining alternative business models. [notable that it doesn’t mention Met Office’s role as a PSI provider, which is rather suspicious]


Budget 2009 will report on progress, and will also take into account market conditions and the views of relevant stakeholders. Gerry Grimstone will work with Lord Carter of Coles, who heads up the OEP Property workstrand, in ensuring that any appropriate efficiencies in relation to property associated with these assets are taken in account.

There’s also some interesting mentions at the end: read in full to see how the market is affecting thoughts of selloffs – or not:

Departments are also working to achieve efficiencies on other Government assets:


• the Ministry of Defence will shortly publish its response to a recent consultation on its plans to release and share parts of its electromagnetic spectrum holdings, with the release process for initial spectrum bands beginning in Spring 2009;


• the Government continues to explore options for realizing value from its stake in Urenco;


• a study of the Forestry Commission’s portfolio in England is being launched to examine options for delivery of public value from the estate in the long term; [=selloff]


• a major redevelopment by Covent Garden Market Authority will aim to put it on a sustainable financial footing, enabling the Government to achieve its long-term objective of disengagement.[=selloff]


In addition, it was concluded in October not to pursue a sale of the Tote in light of current market conditions, and that it should be retained in public ownership for the medium term, to be brought to the market when conditions are likely to deliver value for the taxpayers and the racing industry. [=no selloff because there are no buyers.]

Privatisation, of course, is all very well if you can find a buyer. But in a falling, or stagnant, market, you can’t get the best price. Alastair Darling would be in a weak position if he sold any assets off now only to see the market rise before an election – which would open him to accusations of selling the country short.

Why privatising Ordnance Survey (and other trading funds) would be the worst possible outcome (updated)

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

A story in today’s Sunday Times, ahead of Monday’s Pre-Budget Report, suggests that Ordnance Survey, the Forestry Commission, Land Registry and some other trading funds will be privatised:

A string of state-owned household names including the Met Office, mapmaker Ordnance Survey and the Forestry Commission, are being prepared for sale by the government in the next two years to raise cash for the stretched public purse.

Alistair Darling, the chancellor, is thought to have drawn up a list of 10 companies to offload, including the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in Westminster. He will outline the programme in the prebudget report tomorrow alongside details of a Whitehall efficiency drive.

I’m inclined not to believe this report – sunday newspaper journalism is not always what it appears to be; the phrase “managing expectations” has to be borne in mind (talk up a scary prospect; something less scary but still surprising then seems acceptable). But let’s treat it as correct on its face.

The Free Our Data campaign has always opposed privatisation of any of the government’s data collection agencies. We have said consistently that we admire the OS’s ability as a data collection agency; our argument is with its fiscal model.

If we begin with the Ordnance Survey, here are the reasons why a privatised OS would be far worse than the current one.

  1. as a commercial enterprise, it would not have the commitment to map all of the UK that the national mapping agency must have. If that commitment is forced on it by its articles of association, it would be less competitive than rivals, meaning it would be less competitive and so be vulnerable to takeover or worse
  2. valuing the asset would be almost impossible: what’s the value of the MasterMap and its geographic data? OS has consistently refused to put a price on this*, which has led to its accounts not being accepted by the National Audit Office. What you can’t value, you can’t sell
  3. OS presently updates its database with data provided for free by local authorities and others. This is causing some friction. If OS were a private company, it would have to pay a “market rate” for that data. The arguments about what that rates was would make everything that’s going on now look like a tea party
  4. OS does important defence-related work; are you going to give that to a private company whose shareholders you don’t know about (even if government keeps a golden share)?
  5. privatisations of government properties don’t get good value: the instance of DERA (now Qinetiq) was found to be exceptionally bad value to government, though those who completed it did OK
  6. any asset sale now will not realise the sort of value that might expected: this is a terrible climate in which to try to float a company
  7. financial advisers will tell you anything at present to try to get a selloff – but that doesn’t mean they’re right: look how well they did with mortgage securitisation
  8. most of all, OS doesn’t cost the Treasury anything. It generates a 5% return on its revenues – which is better than you’d get from a bank.

Similar arguments apply to all the other trading funds, at a rough guess. Even the Forestry Commission probably has a valid reason for being part of government.

We’ll wait to see what’s really in the Pre-Budget Report, though.

Update: the PBR gives absolutely no indication of privatisation – quite the opposite, in fact.

* from the latest accounts for 2007/8:

The geographic data (‘the data’ – referred to as the National Geographic Database in previous financial statements) is the term used to describe the suite of geographic datasets that Ordnance Survey collects, develops and maintains to represent as digital and paper products which generate revenue.

The data is an internally generated intangible asset per Financial Reporting Standard 10 and as such can only be capitalised where there is a readily ascertainable market value evidenced by an active market for similar assets. Since the data is unique and has never changed ownership, we consider that no market value can be attached.

(back to text)

Home Office responds re OS and crime maps

Friday, November 21st, 2008

I asked the Home Office yesterday whether the home secretary Jacqui Smith was still standing by her pledge that all police forces would have crime mapping by the end of the year, in the light of the fact that OS claims that plotting any data on a Google (or Microsoft or Yahoo or Ask..) map which is “derived” from an OS map breaks its licence.

The Home Office reply in full:

“Crime mapping is being delivered through ACPO as part of the Policing Pledge. We have been aware of this issue for some time and have worked with ACPO to ensure that forces remain on track to publish crime maps as part of the Policing Pledge by the end of the year”.

I’m intrigued by that “aware… for some time” bit. Because it seems to me that time is running out to hit that target.

Looking, for example, at the site for the county where I live, Essex, the crime figures and statistics page shows a tiny map of the county, and then simply gives you a listing of crimes (if you can figure out where you live; good luck with that if you’re near a boundary, because the map can’t be expanded) in the wards.

To have a crime map by the end of the year will mean changing that all over to something plotted within, let’s be generous, 20-odd working days (unless the Essex coders are going to work over Christmas). Four working weeks.

I may be a pessimist, but unless there’s a radical change in how OS interprets its licensing – or in how OS data gets licensed – I don’t see that happening. The argument about licensing remains. And commenters have previously noted their frustration over the OS licence, which prevents them getting anything done.

Is there a list of the UK police forces, and can anyone find any others that have introduced crime mapping apart from the Met (illicitly), West Yorkshire and West Midlands?

Ordnance Survey says Met Police crime maps break its licence. Does Jacqui Smith know? Or Gordon Brown?

Wednesday, November 19th, 2008

Ordnance Survey has confirmed to me that the crime maps being used by the Met Police break its licence.

And any other police force that uses “ward boundaries” (subdivisions of their force’s policing area, which is how all police forces record crimes) or refers to an OS map in order to plot the location of a crime, and then plots it on anything other than a fully-licenced OS map, is also breaking the OS’s licence.

This, basically, derails any sort of useful crime mapping – and has to call into question whether police forces can meet the deadline promised by the home secretary Jacqui Smith in July.

Just to remind you what was said:

Every neighbourhood in England and Wales will have access to the latest local crime information through new interactive crime maps, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced today.

The rollout of interactive crime maps follows the announcement made by the Home Secretary earlier this month, as part of the Policing Green Paper, that every police force in the country has now delivered monthly crime information to the public on their websites. New interactive crime maps will take the rollout of local crime information to the next level.

By the end of the year every police force area will produce crime maps which will allow the public to:

  • see where and when crime has happened, down to street level for some crimes;
  • make comparisons with other areas; and
  • learn how crime is being tackled by their local neighbourhood policing team.

The new maps will give the public the information they need to hold their local police force to account. The maps will communicate to the public how they can get involved in setting local policing priorities to reduce the crime that matters to them in their area.

The Met Police then went and set up their own crime mapping site, which doesn’t give precise locations of crimes, but does show relative levels of crime, broken down by ward, and plotted – fatally – on a Google Map.

Yesterday OS sent me a statement which said:

“Our understanding is that the Met Police sourced their boundary information through the Office of National Statistics (ONS). We class this as being derived data therefore taking that outside the terms of our licensing. We are working with all the parties involved to find a solution.”

(Need to remind yourself about “derived” data? Be our guest.)

This though skewers Jacqui Smith’s publicly-announced plans for crime mapping. There can be no solution while the OS’s licence – which forbids one putting OS-derived data obtained under one OS licence onto a map that has another licence (or no OS licence at all), unless the two licences have an exactly congruent set of users and terms.

It’s never a good idea to tell a home secretary that the pledge they made publicly in July, allowing six months to happen, now can’t be met.

Then again, perhaps Jacqui Smith isn’t a formidable enough opponent. How about Gordon Brown, who is also in favour of crime mapping?

That said, there are some crime maps already available, which do use OS maps: West Yorkshire police; West Midlands police. As I’ll explore in a later post, they’re complete rubbish – they lack any sort of helpful positional API, multiple layers, or other features that make crime mapping useful. Though they do seem to build on an OS map. This means OS is offering some sort of API-based system. Pity that it’s pretty much hopeless.

Compare and contrast it with the Chicago output of Everyblock – for a particular police beat, or a neighbourhood – and you can see how prehistoric these UK efforts look. Even the ones that are breaking the OS licence. (And especially the ones that aren’t.)

If one good thing can come out of all this it would be for the OS’s stranglehold on geographical information to be broken by a political row in which it frustrates the Home Office – one of the most powerful departments in the country.

Are the Show Us A Better Way winners safe from Ordnance Survey?

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

After the results of the Show Us A Better Way competition – the X-Factor for web services (as I think I dubbed it) – now here’s the letdown. Ordnance Survey has emailed local government organisations waving its copyright stick. And it’s quite a bit stick. One which, in effect, could prevent many – perhaps all? – of the SUABW winners (Free Our Data announcement; BBC announcement), and certainly those which might rely on local authority data that is in any way geographically related – from being implemented, certainly on Google Maps.

Which would only leave OS’s own OpenSpace product. Which as you know isn’t for commercial or high-volume use. Which would rather complicate things.

The OS, we’ve learnt, has circulated local government with a helpful Q+A about how they shouldn’t embed info on Google Maps (or of course other mapping companies such as Microsoft or Yahoo or..) if it has been “derived” from OS data.

Q I want to pass information I have captured, which has been derived from Ordnance Survey data, onto Google for Google to display on Google Maps. Can I do this?

A Any use of Ordnance Survey data, or data derived from Ordnance Survey data, should be in accordance with the terms of your licence. You are only able to provide such data to a third party in limited circumstances, for example, to your contractor undertaking authority business on your behalf, and only provided that such contractor enters into a Contractor’s Licence. (You should note that we believe the terms of the Contractor’s Licence are wholly inconsistent with what we understand to be Google’s standard terms and conditions.)

Therefore, you cannot pass such information to Google for display on Google Maps, and we must remind you that provision of data to Google in this way would be in breach of Crown copyright.

But what is “derived” from OS data? At local government level, pretty much anything if it relates to where something is.

Q What constitutes data ‘derived’ from Ordnance Survey data?

A Simply put, Ordnance Survey derived data is any data created using Ordnance Survey base data. For example, if you capture a polygon or a point or any other feature using any Ordnance Survey data, either in its data form or as a background context to the polygon/point/other feature capture, this would constitute derived data.

It should also be borne in mind that data from other suppliers may be based on Ordnance Survey material, and thus the above considerations may still apply. We therefore recommend that you verify whether any third-party mapping you use may have been created in some way from Ordnance Survey data before displaying it on Google Maps.

OK, then, how about another way of doing things? What if you run Google Maps and overlay info on top of that, rather than putting it “into” Gmaps?

Q I want to pull Google Maps onto my system and host my Ordnance Survey derived business information on top, so that no data will pass to Google. Can I use this solution instead?

A No. Although you will not be passing any data directly to Google, by displaying such data on top of Google Maps in this way and making such mapping available to the public, it appears that you will be granting Google a licence to use such data. This is the case despite the fact that you will be hosting the data on your system. Google’s terms and conditions appear to provide that any display of data on or through the Google services grants Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such data.

The terms of your licence do not permit you to license Ordnance Survey data to a third party in these circumstances.

If you’d like a copy to marvel at, then download the PDF. (Provided as a public service.)

Now, the OS is perfectly within its rights – indeed, it’s asserting its rights as required by its terms of business – to follow this.

But as implemented it would make it impossible for local government organisations to make available any geographical data about locations of objects they own. (And just for clarification, Google does not license OS’s data, not even through a third party. I’m sure I’ve heard phrases like “have to be a snowy day in hell first” but have no idea who said it.)

That means that things like school catchment areas (if given to geographical accuracy, or pulled off an OS-based mapping system) or postbox locations (if local government holds them) or recycling locations or cycling routes or toilets… gracious me, I seem to have listed the top five applications suggested for SUABW.

Let’s be clear, again: OS is perfectly within its rights to assert these rights. One can even argue that it’s obliged to. But I suspect that it’s not going to go down very well with ministers who have worked very hard to get the SUABW competition off the ground, and indeed into the stratosphere: let’s name Tom Watson (Cabinet Office), Michael Wills (Ministry of Justice) and Jim Knight (Department for Education). And of course the Department for Communities and Local Government put up some prizemoney for the competition too. Which OS – which reports into CLG – seems now to be, um, tripping up.

One could view this as a mistake. Or a political oversight. Or perhaps an attempt to force Whitehall, and in particular the Treasury, to decide whether it wants OS’s rights to prevail, or those of ministers who want more openness. In any event, I think that it might be the first test for OS’s new chair, Sir Rob Margetts, who as you’ll recall is required – according to the job advert – to

be an experienced Chair who understands how to build commercial opportunities in the public sector and who has the intellect to take forward a challenging debate about Ordnance Survey’s future strategy. S/he will have experience of change.

“Challenging debate”. Hope your season ticket to London is up to date, Sir Rob.

Ordnance Survey’s lobbying, part 2

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

In Guardian Technology of August 21 we reported on Ordnance Survey’s hiring of a lobbying company called Mandate, and how it had kept watch on MPs and organisations which seemed to be interested in the whole “free data” concept.

Ordnance Survey responded to the story: this is a reprint in full of its letter. Following this, how a story in today’s Guardian Technology examines the contradictions between what OS says it does (and what its minister, Iain Wright, responded in his original Parliamentary answer – that it’s “consultancy and advice on Corporate Communications and Public Affairs”) and what the email track seems to suggest.

First, the letter:
“We are more than happy that the Guardian has shown this interest in the way that Ordnance Survey communicates about the important work that we do.
“Ordnance Survey data helps underpin life in Britain. It is relied on by business and society, from battling the effects of climate change to the sat nav in millions of cars. Our data is mapped down to the nearest few centimeters and updated up to 5000 times a day. It is this consistent level of quality, currency and detail that makes it so vital for public services, ranging from emergency planning to the delivery of everyday services on the ground.
“It is because Ordnance Survey data is so vital that parliamentarians and other important stakeholders expect us to communicate with them about our work. That is why we engage with politicians from all parties who care about the services that we provide. We have a duty to inform them on our role collecting the data needed to map every feature on the landscape, and how we intend to maintain the quality of this sophisticated data going forward.
“We’re committed to the best possible communications with all our stakeholders, now and in the future.
“Nicole Perry head of public affairs, Ordnance Survey”

And so to today’s story, Ordnance Survey defends its use of lobbying company:

The Free Our Data campaign agrees with Perry that the need to educate opinion-makers about geographical data in the digital age is an important part of its public task. However, a study of the 361 printed pages of correspondence between OS and Mandate, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, suggests that its publicity campaign strays into broader areas of government policy. In particular, on the question of whether it and other information agencies should continue to be run as trading funds, required to cover their costs by charging for access to data. (The Free Our Data campaign argues that this policy hampers state and community initiatives to make better use of data.)

Among the papers we received is an account of a seminar on trading funds, organised on April 29 by Locus, an industry body which represents users of public sector information (and which retains its own lobbyist, a firm called Quintus Public Affairs). In an email to Perry, a Mandate executive reveals that she attended the seminar, accompanied by a colleague “Eleanor”, and reports back “on comments from the meeting that you should be aware of”. These include the views of Locus’s chairman, “Bryan Carlsberg” (sic – his name is Carsberg) that member companies should talk to the Conservative party on this issue “as they are currently looking for proposals for their manifesto”.

We’re just trying to square that with Iain Wright’s suggestion that this is “consultancy and advice on Corporate Communications and Public Affairs”. It seems very like, well, straying into areas of policy.

And there’s also the question of quite what is recommended.

On April 24 this year, Mandate alerted Perry that a Conservative MP, Greg Clark, had tabled a question about the relationship with Mandate. The email urged Perry to “please rest assured” that Clark had asked many such questions, and that the information needed in response is “minimal”. We will see whether Ordnance Survey’s minister follows that advice.

I had always thought that it was the responsibility of departments and government agencies to seek to answer Parliamentary Questions as fully as possible; if this is not done and the minister answering is not sufficiently briefed, it can be extremely embarrassing, initially for the minister. Is “minimal” advice sufficient? And overall, has Mandate really been good value for money?

One other thing we’ve heard:

Ordnance Survey’s use of a lobby firm to engage in the free data debate is likely to be on the agenda at the next meeting of the government’s Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information next month.

We’ll look forward to the minutes of that meeting.