[geo-discuss] Texts adopted by Parliament: INSPIRE

Giles Lane giles at proboscis.org.uk
Mon Jun 19 12:09:44 UTC 2006

Dear All,

I recently wrote a case study on the OS for the IPPR's Public Sector  
Information project. Its due to be published sometime this summer,  
but I'm sure they wouldn't mind me posting some relevant sections  
here. It's a pretty dry (and unpartisan) picture of the OS which  
attempts to set out the situation and inform a discussion of wider  
issues of access to public sector info. The IPPR report will also  
contain a more juicy policy proposal for accessing public geodata.

Also, I agree with Rufus that the Treasury is the only real arbiter  
of change for the OS licensing set-up. This was my point at last  
year's open geodata forum. I've been trying to explore these issues  
with people in the Home Office and Treasury through our work with  
local communities over the past year or so, but I suspect it will  
take much longer to get the message through.


IPPR Public Sector Information
Case Study: Ordnance Survey

Domestic Picture
The Ordnance Survey is a non-ministerial government department
responsible for the collection, maintenance and provision of national
geographical information for Great Britain (the National Geographic
Database or NGD). The OS became an Executive Agency in 1990 and then
acquired trading fund status in April 1999 under the provisions of
the 1973 Government Trading Funds Act. It employs around 1,500
people, including about 300 surveyors and has an annual turnover of
around £115 million (source: Annual Report 2004-05, Ordnance Survey).

Trading Funds are part of government, but do not seek general funding
from Parliament each year (like other parts of the Civil Service). The
OS reports to Parliament through a minister in the Office of the
Deputy Prime Minister. Other Trading Funds include the Meteorological
Office, United Kingdom Hydrographic Office, Land Registry, Driving
Standards Agency and Patent Office. Trading funds are not public-
private finance initiatives, but arms-length trading organisations
monitored and responsible to the Treasury. They are expected to
deliver value for money in providing key services and supplies
according to quality standards and fitness for purpose in line with
government policy. The Trading Fund model is designed to give the OS
responsibility for its own finances and planning along with more
freedom to develop new initiatives. It can reinvest profits and plan
for the longer term rather than on a year-to-year basis - operating
along business lines, but with public accountability.

Although it is required as a trading fund to be self-financing
through the licensing of its crown copyright material (geodata and
products) and the sale of traditional paper maps, there is another
side to the OS' work which is covered by the National Interest
Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA). This was set up at the same time
as the trading fund status and is re-negotiated every two to three
years to help fund specific mapping activities that are vital to the
national interest but which cannot be justified on purely commercial
grounds. This is identified as keeping the detailed mapping of remote
areas up-to-date where such mapping is 'vital for public
administration but where there is little other demand'. The NIMSA
agreement currently covers around 10% of the OS's costs of
maintaining the NGD and is costed on a not-for-profit basis (source:
NIMSA Annual Report 2004).

Private Interests: investment and revenue model
The Ordnance Survey is required to generate its entire income from
exploitation of the National Geographic Database. HM Treasury and the
Office of the Deputy Prime Minister have determined that the Ordnance
Survey Trading Fund should aim to achieve a return of at least 5.5
per cent (averaged over the period 1/4/2004-31/3/2007) in the form of
a surplus on ordinary activities. It is estimated that 95% of the
OS's total revenues are dependent on formal intellectual property
(IP). As all users must acquire licenses before using OS geodata
technologies such as digital rights management for controlling
informal IP are not applicable to the OS (source: OS Discussion).

The Ordnance Survey receives finance from the public purse in two
ways: its receives direct subsidy in the form of NIMSA (currently
around 12% of operating costs), but its largest channel for public
money (around 47% of its total income) comes from licensing revenues
from other public sector agencies (such as the NHS), central
government departments and local authorities.

The OS derives no revenue from other, non-IP-related activities.

Public Interests
The Ordnance Survey defines its primary focus as the maintenance and
development of the National Geographic Database, not the maximisation
of revenues. The National Interest Mapping Services Agreement (NIMSA)
agreement provides essential support for non- commercial mapping
activities. This alone provides about 12% of the overall revenues and
13% of the cost of maintaining the NGD.

Giles Lane
2 Ormonde Mansions, 100A Southampton Row, London WC1B 4BJ
T:     020 7209 4042
M:    07711 069 569
IM:   gileslane (Skype)
W:    http://proboscis.org.uk

On 19 Jun 2006, at 12:48, Rufus Pollock wrote:

> Good digging Jo (isn't theyworkforyou useful ...). To follow up to  
> Saul this is straightforward evasion using the fact that:
>   i) the OS is now a trading fund (and external to govt) it doesn't  
> have any public data.
>   ii) all government payments to the OS come via the licensing  
> agreement and the money for that comes out of departmental budgets  
> (which the Minister aren't voted by parliament it appears)
> Frankly I think we shouldn't worry about the evasive answer but  
> focus on two main points:
> i) we've got a parliamentarian (and a Conservative) who is  
> interested enough to ask the question (could someone contact him)
> ii) The real way to change UK policy on geodata is to lobby the  
> treasury (and ignore the OS and everyone else). The Treasury are  
> the ones who have set the 'cost-recovery' policy and a) care about  
> there the money comes from b) the economic benefits
> Regards,
> Rufus
> Saul Albert wrote:
>> On Sun, Jun 18, 2006 at 03:12:28PM -0700, Jo Walsh wrote:
>>> See in particular http://tinyurl.com/oh38d , "to ask what plans  
>>> OS has
>>> for making public data available to the public". The written  
>>> answer he
>>> received is basically untrue; OS *does* receive a sizeable state
>>> subsidy voted by Parliament through NIMSA. Otherwise, this is more
>>> "our hands our tied by our political masters" material.
>> Well found Jo. How immensely frustrating. Is this 'basically'  
>> untrue, or 'actually'
>> untrue?
>> From what we know,
>> "does not receive any funds voted directly by Parliament"
>> Sounds wrong, but I suspect it's true that the budget is not voted  
>> on in
>> parliament, which sounds like a very unusual microbudgetary practice
>> anyway. I know how precise the wording used by parliamentarians  
>> can be, and how
>> infuriating a brush-off like this is..
>> Does anyone know what kinds of things *do* recieve 'funds voted  
>> directly
>> by Parliament'. Difficult territory :/
>> X
>> S.
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