Free Our Data: the blog

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

Ordnance Survey’s lobbying, part 1

Coming late to posting this (I blame holidays), but Mike Cross entered an FOI request after we noticed in May that it had paid a lobbying company called Mandate about £49,000 for “consultancy and advice on Corporate Communications and Public Affairs”.

Except that that description seems rather askew from what we found in the emails (released on paper, and redacted – you know, blanked out – to protect the names of individuals in Mandate and Ordnance Survey). Our thanks by the way to Greg Wright, then shadow minister for the Cabinet Office and MP for Tunbridge Wells, who asked the question (not on our behalf; we’ve no idea why he asked it, though it seems to have been well-informed). Iain Wright of DCLG answered it.

And so to our first story on the topic, which appeared in Technology Guardian under the headline “Ordnance Survey hires PR company to lobby politicians” (can you tell our lawyers checked it first?):

The correspondence reveals that Ordnance Survey (OS) is targeting MPs from Westminster and devolved assemblies, civil servants and leading figures in the free data debate. The agency openly attends party conferences and other political events to promote the value of geographical data. However, earlier this year a Parliamentary question revealed that it had paid a company called Mandate £42,076.20 plus VAT since August 2007.

However, it refused to release emails on backup tapes on the grounds of cost, £11,250. The correspondence released – mainly between Nicole Perry, head of public affairs, and Mandate executives whose names have been blanked out – reveals a busy programme of meetings with politicians, especially those who have asked questions in Parliament about OS’s corporate affairs, or about free data.

Among MPs named are Labour’s David Taylor – “you might recall that he’d (sic) raised the issue of free data” – Conservatives Anne McIntosh and Paul Beresford, and several Welsh Assembly members. According to Mandate, Robert Kee (Conservative, Salisbury) “is a big supporter of OS, so I don’t think this [a Parliamentary question] is anything to worry about”.

This story (of which that’s only part; go to the story itself to read in full) generated a response from OS, which will be dealt with (and we’ll publish the letter in full) in the next post up.

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