The next step for location information

In a recent article on geographic information (GI) and geographical information systems (GIS) we focused on the UK Location Programme and its links to the EU INSPIRE Directive. This time we will focus on two new announcements: the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) and the National Address Gazetteer (NAG). Both have cost and efficiency savings potential as well as that of fostering innovation.
But why GI and GIS?
The question “where?” is always present in managing and interacting operational data in the public and private sector. Virtually no piece of government information exists without a position locating it to a place on the world’s surface, be this an address, a property, a telegraph pole, a man-hole cover, a path, a parliamentary constituency, a railway line, the position of an ambulance, and so on. Over recent decades, information has become digitally encoded and stored and has fueled the rise of Geographic Information Systems and Geographic Information. The public sector was an early adopter of this technology and information, but this remains fragmented and has not attained its full potential. Today, the value of sales and services in the UK Geographic Information market is valued to be over £900M by government1. That said the ‘value-add’ is significant. Today, very few branches of industry and public administration are not touched by GI and GIS somewhere and its importance is growing. Effective use of GI and GIS can make a tremendous contribution to the delivery of private and public services and is at the heart of effective administration.

Cost benefits
A recent study commissioned by the Local Government Association and IDEA2 estimated that GDP was approximately £320m higher in 2008-9 in England and Wales than would have been the case without adoption of GI by local public services providers. It also stated that average annualised cost to benefit cost ratio of a public sector GIS implementation was approximately 1:2.5 over an average five year project life cycle. In other words, a return of £2.5 for each £1 invested.

Baroness Andrews, former Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, CLG, stressed the importance of geographic information in the UK Location Strategy3: “Good maps and location intelligence can help determine how quickly our ambulances turn up, where a policeman patrols, how we act in a national emergency. Knowing more about where we live can help us make the best decisions. But across the country there is still too little sharing of the best practice and we are wasting time and money trying to find the information we need.”

But this is starting to change.

The Public Sector Mapping Agreement
For several years public sector users have had access to collective licensing agreements to access and use Ordnance Survey digital data products. However these had several limitations including: 1) being sector specific – e.g. local government, central government, or the NHS; 2) requiring license payments – thus one public body would be paying another public body and; 3) the agreements suffered some inflexibility in areas such as data sharing, or creating new data derived from the original digital maps.

Following CLG’s Policy Options for Ordnance Survey consultation in early 2010, an announcement was made by government to launch a broad-ranging new Public Sector Mapping Agreement on 1 April 2011.

CLG has established a relationship with Ordnance Survey to provide centrally funded mapping products to the entire public sector in England & Wales. This means one collective agreement will cover the whole public sector – instead of multiple agreements – and, significantly, the complex round of license payments between public bodies for digital data will be removed. It also offers great potential to widen the exploitation of core mapping data across more parts of government and its contractors.

The government has also freed-up known restrictions or complications involved in derived data plus sharing and distributing data between different parts of the public sector, including between those using the different existing procurement agreements. These had a known adverse impact on collaborative working, service contracting and developing shared services.

Datasets to be made available are quite substantial and include: OS MasterMap® Topography Layer; OS MasterMap® Integrated Transport Network (ITN) Layer Road Routing Information (RRI) Theme and Urban Paths Theme; 1:10 000 Scale Raster; OS VectorMap™ Local; 1:25 000 Scale Colour Raster; 1:50 000 Scale Colour Raster; Code-Point®; Code-Point® with polygons; plus Detailed Address Products (see below). In addition all users have free access to the previously announced OS Opendata Datasets which resulted from the previous government’s Making Public Data Public (MPDP) policy.
CLG stated that: “Geographical data is at the heart of the delivery of many public services. However, the multiplicity of different agreements between various parts of the public sector and Ordnance Survey has, in the past, led to inefficiencies and prevented public organisations working together effectively for the benefit of individuals and businesses.”4

Whilst the announcement has not been totally free of criticism or words of concern from some private sector geographic data providers, the prospect of a much wider ranging agreement to supply government with Ordnance Survey data and to overcome a number of obstacles to take-up, use, innovation and achieving efficiency savings has been well received by public sector users.

National Address Gazetteer
In a subsequent, but related development, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government announced in December the plan to set up a joint venture between Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Group to create a new single source of address data for England and Wales – a National Address Gazetteer (NAG)5. The new undertaking will be called GeoPlace LLP.

Products created from the National Address Gazetteer will be made available free at the point of use for all public sector bodies under the Sector Mapping Agreement mentioned above.

Subject to Office of Fair Trading OFT clearance in the New Year, the GeoPlace LLP joint venture will be established and National Address Gazetteer then developed. A ‘first iteration’ of the National Address Gazetteer database is expected by April 2011.  

This announcement is highly significant, because business and essential public services have had to pay for different national address lists for many years. No single address list provided adequate coverage causing excess costs, inefficiencies and potential confusion. This new announcement has the potential to reduce duplication of effort and problems regarding copyright and intellectual property rights. It should provide an opportunity to reduce the cost of maintaining the National Address Gazetteer and the National Street Gazetteer. It may also allow the recording, update and dissemination of address changes to be streamlined and made more rapid in line with end-user requirements.

A number of details still need clarification and ironing-out. That said this is a potentially enormous breakthrough to create something that the market has been demanding for many years. In the words of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government6: “It’s crazy we don’t have one single address list in this country. Having only one ‘address book’ will … deliver vital savings that can be put towards frontline services and bring real benefits for business.”

There is an oft-repeated mantra that 80 per cent of information relates to a place. All things happen somewhere. Geography, or more simply ‘where?’ is fundamental to public policy and these two new developments to better obtain, use and share geographic information will be welcomed by increasingly financially-constrained public bodies.


1 Policy options for geographic information from Ordnance Survey, CLG, December 2009
2 The Value of Geospatial Information to Local Public Service Delivery in England and Wales, ConsultingWhere/ACIL Tasman 2010
3 Place Matters: The Location Strategy for the UK, CLG, November 2008
4 Public Sector Mapping Agreement for England and Wales Transition Plan, CLG, August 2010
5 Government initiative for national addressing, Ordnance Survey, December, 2010
6 Government initiative for national addressing, Ordnance Survey, December, 2010

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About the Author:

Chris Holcroft is the Director of the Association of Geographic Information (AGI), the independent UK membership organisation serving all with an interest in ‘Location’. He is also a member of the UK Location Council. The views expressed here are his own and do not necessarily reflect that of AGI, its members,  or the UK Location Council.

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