Free Our Data: the blog

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

Where is Ordnance Survey’s public task set out, exactly? And why is it paying an external PR company? (updated)

As Mike Cross has posted, there is some interesting triangulation going on through Parliamentary questions on how the Ordnance Survey’s public task was determined. (There seems to be a groundswell of questions from Conservative MPs inquiring into it.) These are generally batted away with standard civil service responses – basically saying “well, we did it how we did it.”

So we wondered: where can the OS’s public task document be found?

Not on the OS website, where you simply find

For the purposes of the PSI regulations, Ordnance Survey’s Public Task is defined as embracing everything we do from time to time to fulfil our obligations under the Ordnance Survey Trading Fund Order 1999 (SI 99/965) and the Ordnance Survey Framework Document 2004.

This is akin to saying “whatever we do, it’s a public task, because we do it.”

Nor on the Shareholder Executive site (the SE is the government arm which determines what its trading fund should do), where the relevant page says:

Ordnance Survey’s objective is to deliver its Public Task. This can be summarised [emphasis added – CA] as to:

  • collect and maintain uniform geographic datasets with national coverage, and provide nationally-consistent mapping
  • maintain a definitive three-dimensional satellite-based geodetic reference framework to enable correct positioning of mapping and other data against the National Grid
  • ensure that its data is capable of supporting the principles underlying the Digital National Framework, to allow integration and association with other geospatial information
  • make the content of its datasets widely available in forms that are accessible to all customers for wider benefit, and charge its customers for the licensing and use of its products
  • conduct its activities efficiently and effectively to maximise the broader economic value of its data, while complying with trading fund requirements and creating long-term shareholder value.
  • Yes, that’s an improvement, but we don’t want summarised – we want full. Where is it? Anyone?

    (Bonus link: OS has paid an organisation called Mandate £42,076.20 + VAT (that’s £49.400) since August 2007 for “consultancy and advice on Corporate Communications and Public Affairs.” Interesting to see that Mandate says that its skills in public affairs includes “Winning over the decision makers who matter”.

    Wonder why OS would think it needs those services?)

    Update: Dan MacDonald has provided a pointer to the OS’s public task in the comments – but he points out that “it’s only available if you trawl thru’ the pdf version of the evidence given at“. Thanks, Dan.

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