Free Our Data: the blog

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

Postcomm makes recommendations on future of Postcode Address File: it should make a profit

Postcomm, the postal regulator, has come up with its recommendations on what should happen with the Postcode Address File (PAF) – that valuable item owned by the Post Office/Royal Mail.

Postcomm calls them “new safeguards for the future management of the postcode and address data contained in Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File”, which you can see at the Postcomm announcement on PAF:

The four key issues covered in today’s document – “Royal Mail’s future management of PAF” (pdf, 604KB)– are:

  • The definition of PAF – what information should Royal Mail be obliged to supply? Postcomm considers that ‘PAF data’ is not only made up of postcode details, but also includes other information needed to allow users to identify specific addresses.
  • The creation of an advisory board. Royal Mail has agreed to set up an advisory board to represent the views of PAF users, and has already started the recruitment process for the board’s independent chairman.
  • Ringfencing of PAF. As competition develops in the mail market – and also with other suppliers of similar address data – it is crucial that Royal Mail ringfences PAF from its other activities, in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
  • Profits. There is increasing demand for PAF data from a wide range of organisations, which rely very heavily on the information it provides. This puts Royal Mail in a very powerful position where setting prices is concerned. Although PAF does not fall within the ‘price control’ that Postcomm uses to set a pricing and service quality framework for Royal Mail, the company has agreed to aim for an operating profit margin in the range of 8-10%. If profits exceed this range, the excess would be either returned to customers or reinvested in PAF.
  • The linked PDF is a sprightly 92 pages, and I’m working my way through it. The questions that spring to mind for me are: why 8-10%? I suppose that’s a typical operating profit in the private sector – but it’s interesting that there’s not been the application of, say, “return on capital employed” (used in trading funds) which would give a much lower price for PAF.

    Secondly, how can PAF truly be ringfenced?

    We’re interested to hear your views – particularly if you’ve managed to reach page 92 first.

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