HC Deb 28 July 1982 vol 28 cc603-4W
Mr. Hill

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement about the future of the Ordnance Survey.

Mr. Heseltine

I announced proposals for a trading fund for the Ordnance Survey in July last year. Since then I have conducted far-reaching consultations on the proposals. The report of these consultations and of my conclusions will be laid before Parliament shortly. The responses to consultation are an impressive testimony to the value placed upon the Ordnance Survey as our national mapping agency and to the high regard in which its work is held. I welcome this support. But many of the responses also expressed fears that the Government's proposals will lead to a deterioration in the service provided or to a loss of quality. I hope to show, as the Government's proposals are developed and submitted to Parliament, that these fears are misplaced.

The Government's objective is to ensure that the national asset represented by Ordnance Survey and its topographical archive is fully maintained, developed, and exploited. I believe the private sector has a vital role to play and I intend that Ordnance Survey should co-operate with it closely and fully; but Ordnance Survey should not be diverted from its national surveying and mapping task, and I agree with those who say that its effectiveness in performing those tasks cannot be assessed solely in commercial terms. Efficiency and cost effectiveness must, however, be part of the assessment of performance. The Government believe that the more commercial discipline of a trading fund provides the best environment for securing this without impairing the fulfilment of the survey's non commercial objectives.

An order to establish the trading fund, which will be subject to affirmative resolution procedure, will be presented to Parliament in due course. Key factors in the operation of the new system will be the programme of activities OS is to undertake, the commercial policy it is to follow, and the financing of that work is required by the Government but which is not chargeable to individual users, public or private. A full statement on these matters will be made so that they can be taken properly into account as Parliament considers and debates the proposed trading fund order. I envisage that, subject to parliamentary approval, the Ordnance Survey trading fund should start operating on 1 April 1983.

To advise me and Ordnance Survey management about the development and implementation of the approach I have outlined, I propose to establish a small advisory board. The provision of independent advice is a requirement identified by the Ordnance Survey review committee. One of the advisory board's key tasks will be to review the Ordnance Survey's plan, and notably the financial arrangements under which Ordnance Survey will operate. Others will be to advise on major policy decisions, and on marketing, development, and subcontracting strategies. Sir Robert Clayton, technical director of the General Electric Company, has agreed to be the chairman of the board.

I shall make a further announcement about other appointments to the board which I hope will start work very soon.