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OFT criticises Ordnance Survey for preventing competition

Posted: 01 December 2006

The Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), a local government organisation which works with local authorities throughout England and Wales, has welcomed the recent findings of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Report, Commercial Use of Public Information (CUPI).
The report's conclusion that Ordnance Survey:
"... prevents businesses from competing with the current value-added products of the PSIH (Ordnance Survey) itself or with any it intends to market...(and) treats its own refined information operations more favourably than competing business..."
highlights a long-standing licensing issue, between an IDeA local government information infrastructure project (which is managed through an IDeA subsidiary - the Local Government Information House (LGIH)) and Ordnance Survey. A six-year licensing impasse between Ordnance Survey and the IDeA together with its partner Intelligent Addressing, a leading addressing and data management specialist, was given specific mention in the report. The IDeA project is a very successful e-Gov initiative, which, through the Mapping Services Agreement, provides all local authorities, including Councils, Police Authorities, Fire Authorities, National Parks Authorities, Passenger Transport Executives and other local government bodies in England and Wales, with services needed to create, keep up to date and obtain the National Land & Property Gazetteer (NLPG). But, this definitive database for all land and property in England and Wales cannot be deployed for use by either central government and/or commercial organisations because of the six-year dispute with Ordnance Survey.
Whilst the report identifies examples of good practice such as:
The British Geological Survey which "makes its core samples and field notebooks ...available to businesses"
The Met Office which "charges the same price for weather observations to competing businesses as to its own weather forecasting operations."
it does single out Ordnance Survey (OS) for specific criticism. This included:
"... licence terms do not encourage the reuse of its information.." "..provides limited access to its unrefined information and concentrates on developing value-added or refined information products itself..."
"... it (is) difficult for OS to prove whether it is providing equal access and the same prices to business customers and its own internal use of information..."
"... (its) specific use contracts allow it the right to terminate its contract with a re-user in a wide range of situations ". This may prevent some businesses from using OS's products or from raising disputes with OS, whether this is justified or not."
After looking at the markets for Public Sector Information (PSI) and how well the supply of PSI is working for customers (at what price and on what terms), the CUPI Study confirmed that the lack of competition in public sector information provision, costs the UK economy half a billion pounds a year.
Commenting on the Report's conclusions, Caroline Mikardo, IDeA Director said "The OFT has highlighted the gap between the government's ambition to turn Britain into a knowledge based economy and the sometimes painful reality of doing business with a Public Sector Information Holder which is acting as a brake on innovation and efforts to modernise government.
"The true value of this study is that the existing barriers to innovation in the geographic information sector should now be removed - resulting in efficiency savings for the public sector, the streamlining of some egovernment initiatives, and better information becoming available to others from emergency services, central government departments and agencies and other local government partners to the commercial and voluntary sectors."
In addition to the OFT Study, the issue is also the subject of an investigationby the:
Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI), the official body responsible for investigating complaints under the Re-Use of Public Sector Information (PSI) Regulations and the Information Fair Trader Scheme (IFTS)
Advisory Panel on Public Sector Information (APPSI), part of whose remit is to advise Ministers on how to encourage and create opportunities in the information industry for greater re-use of public sector information.
IDeA believes that the OFT report will have a positive effect on its efforts to secure fair and reasonable licensing terms from Ordnance Survey in order to enable the use of this address infrastructure across the public sector and beyond. The CUPI findings should hopefully remove the current barriers preventing use of the NLPG to support modernisation in the public sector as a response to the e-government agenda, transformational government requirements and the recently published Varney Report.
1st December 2006

Notes to Editors:
Intelligent Addressing is a specialist private sector consultancy (an SME) employing recognised experts in addressing. It was originally set up to help develop the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) on behalf of local government and now manages the NLPG and NSG central data hubs under the terms of the Mapping Services Agreement (MSA) with local government.
Intelligent Addressing contact:
Gayle Gander, Head of Marketing | 0207 747 3500 | E-mail: [email protected] | www.intelligent-addressing.co.uk, www.thensg.org.uk, www.nlpg.org.uk
Editorial enquiries and colour separation requests:
William Allbrook | T: 01666 826641 | F: 01666 824668
The Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA) The IDeA works in partnership with all councils, to enhance the performance of the best, accelerate the speed of improvement of the rest, and develop the sector as a whole. IDeA has brokered the Mapping Services Agreement (MSA) with Intelligent Addressing to develop the NLPG and NSG, through the Local Government Information House (LGIH), a wholly owned subsidiary of the Agency.
Working in partnership with the local government community developing national infrastructure projects that enable councils to deliver local services more effectively, LGIH acts as an intermediary between the public and the private sector enabling it to negotiate with private companies on behalf of local authorities in order to provide key parts of a technical infrastructure for improved service delivery.
The NLPG is a joint venture between the Information House and Intelligent Addressing Limited.
IDeA contacts:
Steve Brandwood, Programme Manager | 020 7296 6615 | Email: [email protected] | www.idea.gov.uk
Media: Paul Bailey | 020 7296 6529
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