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National Audit Office (NAO) – using UPRNs as best practice

The National Audit Office (NAO) is the UK’s independent public spending watchdog. It supports Parliament in holding government to account and helps improve public services through its audit work. It reports on economy, efficiency and effectiveness, across the widest range of projects and services – everything from nuclear decommissioning, to the provision of school meals, to Covid responses and more. It is highly responsive, fast-paced work, the outputs from which are delivered as exemplars in accuracy. Reports and insights are depended upon by Parliament, and used regularly by the PAC.

A typical Value for Money study may take a year or more, Insights into the topic of the study are needed throughout the cycle from scoping, fieldwork, drafting and eventual publication. The mapping and spatial analysis discipline provide insight into the spatial aspects pertinent to the study through maps, spatial analysis and interactive application development.

National Audit Office on GeoPlace

To understand how money is being spent, what progress is being made against policy – it is essential to examine the outcomes of that spend comparatively, in context. The NAO can request access to almost any dataset within government and has the authority to do widespread checks as to that underlying data’s integrity and currency. This carries a great deal of responsibility. And, over time, improvements in those source datasets are being seen. However, as government departments evolve at pace, the inclusion of Unique Property Reference Numbers (UPRNs) as key location references is not yet as prevalent as it might be.

Marc Adams, Senior Analyst and Mapping Lead, “We are supportive of the open standards being promoted by GDS. When data utilises open standards, it allows it to be accessible, consistent and robust and this represents an opportunity for departments to save money, to enrich their information, reduce risk and – perhaps most importantly – to share information, confidently, with other departments. In turn, this helps us here, at the NAO, to demonstrate the immense value for money that can be and is being delivered, and to identify areas in which even more value might be revealed. UPRNs, as a GDS approved open data standard offer a way for departments to have greater confidence in the accuracy of their addressing data.

The UPRN is a useful tool for the NAO's work where addressing data is being used. It supports spatial data analysis, data cleansing and data matching – the stages necessary to ensure disparate datasets and innovative applications of data can be blended to provide robust analysis. Marc continues: “To give you an analogy, it’s like driving a sports car on a dirt track: you can have the most sophisticated and powerful data analysis and visualisation tools, but if the underlying data is incomplete or incorrect then you won’t get good analytical traction to take you forward.” The NAO supports a single, consistent standard that uniquely identifies addresses, like UPRNs, because this helps us to overcome many inherent challenges in using location data.

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