National Information Infrastructure and new benefits cases.

The independent views in this blog are those of the Open Data User Group (ODUG) and are not an expression of the opinions of the Cabinet Office or the government.


1. Working toward a National Information Infrastructure

ODUG welcomes the recent government commitments in response to the Shakespeare Review  including the commitment to a National Information Infrastructure. Our work over the last year, through the data request mechanism has strengthened the demand side process for public sector open data releases. The government’s new commitments will complement this by strengthening the supply side, as departments and other public sector data holders are asked to publicly set out their data inventories. This is a positive step on the Open Data journey.

Many of the datasets essential to the National information Infrastructure are the ones ODUG and the data community have already identified as key to opening up opportunities for innovation, competition and growth in the data product and services market, also to realise wider benefits in the delivery of public services. Not least the Open National Address Dataset we have been calling for, proposals and options for which are under discussion inside Whitehall. Also the additional datasets we highlight in the new benefits cases below including: Ordnance Survey Open Data Licensing, Inspire Index Polygons, Public Rights of Way and Energy Performance Certificates.

We are also refreshing our membership, so if you would like to apply to be part of ODUG, please click here.

2. Open Addresses & Postcodes are essential for growth and public sector efficiency

An open postcode dataset is an essential component of an Open National Address Dataset. The preferred postcode dataset would be the Royal Mail’s Postcode Address File (PAF) which has been the subject of recent debate in the context of the Royal Mail (RM) privatisation. RM recently announced free use of the PAF for small charities, a year’s free commercial use for PAF micro businesses and a proposed simplification of the PAF licensing regime. This is a move in the right direction however RM maintaining a revenue stream from the onward licensing of PAF data continues to be the primary focus and ODUG does not consider these proposals sufficient to ensure that PAF becomes the defacto standard for UK postcodes - in the best interests of the Royal Mail’s delivery business, and to underpin the National Information Infrastructure.

ODUG does not expect that RM’s proposals will maximise the use of PAF by innovative businesses because many will opt to develop and use free open postcode files which are not subject to license restrictions or costs. ODUG is aware of at least two ongoing projects to deliver a fully open set of UK postcode data and expects a fully open postcode dataset to emerge in due course as an effective open standard dataset. In the meantime a plethora of different postcode datasets will persist so there is no social or commercial consistency in national addressing.

Meanwhile the Royal Mail needs to secure the supply of Local Authority (LA) Street Naming and Numbering (SNN) data to run its delivery business as a private company. The discussions between RM and government around the PAF, in the context of the RM privatisation, which we do not expect the government to reopen, assumed that this supply of SNN will continue as ‘business-as-usual’ for a privatised Royal Mail.

Whilst the Royal Mail has been publicly owned LAs have recognised that providing their Street Naming and Numbering (SNN) data to the Royal Mail is an important contribution to a ‘public good’. ODUG conducted a brief straw-poll of the Regional Local Authority Gazetteer Chairs (who oversee the production and delivery of SNN throughout the UK). These key staff at local authorities indicated that they will be unwilling to provide address data to RM as a private company unless RM commits to an OpenPAF; the view of SNN regional representatives that – if the Royal Mail would commit to an OpenPAF in perpetuity, Local Authorities should commit to provide the Street Naming and Number data Royal Mail requires, free of charge for the public good.

Without the supply of local authority SNN data, RM address data will become disjointed and will lack currency, which must raise concerns for Royal Mail’s delivery business. ODUG recognises the position the Government has now arrived at, but would have preferred an arrangement between RM and LAs for OpenPAF in return for free SNN data which would (i) solidly support the Universal Postal Service (UPS) for all; (ii) ensure the successful privatisation of the Royal Mail at a fair price for the public (because securing this data supply reduces the business risk to the Royal Mail in the longer term); and (iii) underpin the National Information Infrastructure and growth agenda.

GeoPlace (Ordnance Survey’s joint venture with Local Authorities) may become central to the supply of SNN data to the Royal Mail. Under the Data Cooperation Agreement (DCA) most Local Authorities provide GeoPlace with their SNN data which GeoPlace combines with the PAF, Ordnance Survey and other data to generate address datasets. This data is currently publicly owned, but there is a danger that key components of this address data will move into the private domain and be lost to the public good. Any further commercialisation of addressing products must be avoided to avoid the privatisation of the entire National Address Infrastructure

So, iIn preparing for privatisation it is likely that the Royal Mail is negotiating to secure a supply of Local Authority data, either directly from Local Authorities or via GeoPlace (since GeoPlace, as a result of the DCA, claims ownership of the address data it processes on behalf on the public). Any such arrangement where publicly owned bodies are allowed to fully commercialise our National Address Data, will essentially privatise the entire National Information Infrastructure. In the view of ODUG this is not in the public interest.

ODUG believes that the national address infrastructure should remain in the public domain as a public good. To keep address data as a public good ODUG recommends that GeoPlace should be mandated, by the government, in the public interest, to provide local authority SNN data to the Royal Mail for free in return for open postcode data in an Open PAF This would deliver a single, consistent, national address dataset for the benefit of all parts of our society.

Please add your comments on this issue below – we are keen to hear them.


3. Ordnance Survey Licensing restrictions a significant market barrier to growth in data products and services

ODUG has also been working in response to a high number of data requests seeking improved access to geo-spatial and location-based data. We have established that Ordnance Survey (OS) derived data licensing restrictions, including those applied to existing OS Open Data products; severely restrict the potential for data products and services in both the public and private sectors.

Of specific concern are:

a) The cumbersome and complex arrangements through which OS closely manages the derived data services public sector organisations are allowed to deliver under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA), despite a hefty payment from government for the use of OS data by the public sector.

b) Ordnance Survey’s active and anti-competitive control of the market in which it and its partners ‘compete’. Even organisations licensing OS data are subject to contractual restrictions designed to favour OS’s current partners and proprietary joint ventures by prohibiting new third parties from accessing the market.

c) OS and GeoPlace’s commercial stranglehold on the National Addressing Infrastructure, described above, despite both bodies being in public ownership.

The accompanying ODUG benefits case – OS Open Data Licensing sets out the detailed restrictions OS places on the development and delivery of products and services requiring location data, through its derived data licensing restrictions, with a particular focus on the restrictions surrounding a number of important datasets the user community has highlighted to us through the data request mechanism, including:

  • Address Data
  • INSPIRE Index Polygons Dataset (Land Registry)
  • River Network Data
    • Public Rights of Way collated from local authorities
    • OS Code-Point with Polygons data
    • Forestry Commission index data
    • Area data related to the conservation, management and regulation of land including greenbelt, conservation areas, and other planning constraint data
    • Public land and property assets
  • Grade I and II listed buildings
  • Energy Performance Certificates for buildings
  • Public service locations (such as public conveniences)


Accompanying the main paper are a number of specific benefits cases covering:


(This benefits case has already been shared with HMLR and Ordnance Survey)

ODUG is raising these important issues and benefits cases to the attention of the Public Sector Transparency Board for its consideration in the context of the National Information Infrastructure and to Ministers responsible for the Information Economy Strategy for their consideration in the context of the opportunities the UK has for much needed economic growth in the data product and services market.

Please take some time to read these benefits cases through and let us have your comments so that we can pass these on, on behalf of the Open Data community.


Heather Savory

Chair Open Data User Group

July 2013


  1. Comment by Howard Davies posted on

    ?Reading the comments concerning Ordnance Survey's licensing policies in the blog and the associated benefits case, we should point out that OS is regulated as a member of the Information Fair Trader Scheme and in the last verification report OS progress in supporting open data releases by putting in place a mechanism for considering derived data requests and removing limitations in its commercial licensing, was noted. We take feedback from licensees and other stakeholders seriously and work with all IFTS members on actions for improving and meeting concerns. OS is no different.

    Howard Davies

    The National Archives

  2. Comment by posted on

    I speak as one whose views, while hugely supportive of ODUG and the Open Data movement, remain slightly orthogonal to the mainstream. For example, I believe the short term economics benefits of Open Data have been overstated ( self damagingly so) and that there may be perfectly reasonable grounds for charging for certain public datasets. What matters only is that any charges are transparently arrived at, based on cost recovery principles and properly assessed by the regulatory body.

    But it is not true that the main public funded players in the addressing debate are subject to Government's own regulatory principles. GeoPlace for example remains , though entirely publicly funded , outside the regulatory framework. Its exclusive trading partner and joint venture shareholder may be a member of IFTS, but GeoPlace is not. It is perfectly possible that both it and Royal Mail adhere to Treasury guidelines on limited cost recovery, and IFTS principles of Fairness in their charging. But how would anyone know when their addressing businesses are wrapped up in the combined accounts of the larger enterprises? They do themselves and the public a disservice by not being open about the extent of their costs recovery on addressing. There is nothing wrong with saying: this is what it costs, this we need to recover and re invest, etc. That's all embedded in our regulatory guidelines and fairly and independently assessable by the regulator ( if you let them in!)

    There is a cost to creating definitive national datasets. Be brave Royal Mail and GeoPlace and be transparent. Reasonable non ideological parties will support you if you have a public interest case. But if you are over recovering on the addressing operations, then the public interest is not being served.

    ODUG is to be congratulated on the cogency and reasonableness of its paper.

    Shane O'Neill
    Chairman ELGIN


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