[OSM-talk] UK gov't considers opening up Ordnance Survey?

Richard Fairhurst richard at systemeD.net
Thu Jul 26 11:32:15 BST 2007


Interview with Michael Wills, new minister for technology. Very  
tentative, but potentially chimes with Steve's posting of the other  
day. A few excerpts:

Wills said that it was time to re-examine the trading fund model used  
by organisations such as Ordnance Survey, the UK Hydrographic Agency  
and others, under which they receive no direct tax funding but cover  
costs by charging for data and services. "The world has changed  
dramatically since the 1970s [when trading funds were first set up;  
Ordnance Survey became a trading fund in 1999] and we have to  
re-examine it, that's absolutely clear."


An independent study commissioned by the government will report to  
Wills by December on the effectiveness and efficiency of the trading  
fund model, which will be used to decide whether it should still be  
applied to various public-sector organisations. Among the findings  
that Wills expects is a clear definition of the public task of  
Ordnance Survey: "[I hope] we do get clarity of purpose from the OS.  
It's important if we want these [commercial] markets to flourish, and  
we do, and we want creativity and innovation to flourish, we have to  
know what the rules of the game are."


The decision on how to fund public sector data organisations was  
essential to get right, Wills emphasised. This left the impression  
that he is excited by the potential that free reuse of data offers to  
entrepreneurial organisations - he compared it to the explosion of  
independent TV production companies in the 1980s and 1990s, which he  
was directly involved in, following the deregulation of the TV sector  
- but that he is also understandably wary of being the minister who  
approves a change that in the worst case might turn out to have  
destroyed the huge value that resides in organisations like Ordnance  
Survey. "We have to be very clear that we're setting up a model that  
is going to be sustainable," he said.

As Wills notes: "The presumption is that you let people follow their  
own instincts, let them make some money; if it works, great. That's  
the way you're going to get the creativity and the energy. If you  
start saying what should happen, you won't get something wonderful."

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