Bringing Location to Life - case study based on a presentation from Dr Marc Adams, Senior Analyst and MESH Mapping Lead, National Audit Office at the GeoPlace conference 2019
The National Audit Office (NAO) is the UK’s independent Parliamentary body responsible for scrutinising central government departments, government agencies and non departmental public bodies. In the financial year from 2017 to 2018, the NAO audited over 370 departmental accounts.
The NAO also carries out value for money (VFM) audits into the administration of public policy: making sure that Parliament holds government to account. It focuses on ‘the effectiveness, efficiency and economy of government spending’, as opposed to government policy itself.
In all, the NAO issues around 60 publications annually, split between Value for Money reports and Investigations into specific aspects of government operation. These reports, and the associated report recommendations, help government to improve public services. In 2018 alone, the joint activity of the NAO’s study teams led to audited savings of £539m. The need for consistent insights is essential in this work, and the NAO’s Mapping Disciple is one of eight teams supporting those study teams.
It is important to remember that all public services are delivered somewhere. The National Audit Office audits the economy, the efficiency and the effectiveness of public service delivery. To do this, it sees addressing data as an essential part of its toolkit: the integrity of that addressing data is improved by use of the UPRN.
Where appropriate, the NAO uses the Unique Property Reference Number as an authoritative point of reference and validation. Depending on the context of the audit, the NAO uses the UPRN to help establish:
• What is being delivered where
• To what level of service/quality/cost
• Servicing which populations
• Where there are changes in service delivery: what are the potential impacts
The NAO’s audits are wide-ranging. From auditing the finances of the Ministry of Defence, the British Tourist Authority, and the Department for Work and Pensions, to creating reports on the financial efficiency of the Supreme Court.
Examples of its work include analysing and reporting on the distribution of the Ministry of Defence’s civilian workforce and, in relation to those operations, the impact for transfers of work and staff to or from regional centres. In this kind of analysis, the ability to use verified location data is essential. It plays a formative role in correlating and contrasting datasets.
However, addressing exists in various forms across government due to the prevalence of legacy systems and datasets. This can make address matching hard in that analysis. Challenges have included:
• Partial or incorrect postcodes in a dataset
• No postcode provided for an address
• Un-addressable locations
• Postcodes entered as part of an address string
• Genuine postcodes, allocated in error
Some of these challenges can be overcome by ensuring the UPRN is used as a single point of reference across the appropriate datasets. Looking to the future, the NAO aims to expand its use of the UPRN, and use it in a wide range of solutions for address matching:
• Automated checking using OS AddressBase
• Batch cleaning, processing and appending of plottable co-ordinates.
• Checking that address strings conform to postcodes so that analysts might understand where there may not be a match.
In addition, the NAO is aiming to undertake deeper location analytics, including the provision of addressing multiple services to locations; the application of spatial interaction models; and the use of spatial data in departmental operational planning and delivery where appropriate.