HC Deb 23 July 2002 vol 389 cc1012-4W
Dr. Whitehead

To ask the Deputy Prime Minister if he will make a statement on the Quinquennial Review of Ordnance Survey. [72983]

Mr. McNulty

I am pleased to announce today the outcome of the second and final stage of the Quinquennial Review of Ordnance Survey.

On 19 December 2001 it was announced that the Government were minded to accept the recommendation from stage 1 of the Review of Ordnance Survey, that it should move to become a Government-owned public limited company (G0p1c). Ordnance Survey is a Government Department and Executive Agency operating within a trading fund regime. The stage 1 review considered that it needed additional freedoms and flexibilities to enable it to use its full potential to develop the geographic information and e-business marketplace, and concluded that a change in status could offer such freedoms.

Subsequently, a Steering Group chaired by this Department, including representatives from Ordnance Survey, HM Treasury, Cabinet Office and two external members from the Association for Geographic Information, and the London borough of Lewisham, undertook further work based on the stage 1 findings consulting external advisers. As with the stage 1 review, consultation took place with a wide range of stakeholders and customers in the geographic information business in Great Britain.

Following work on stage 2 of the Quinquennial Review, I am now of the opinion that there is no clear evidence to support the view that Ordnance Survey would benefit from a change of status to GOplc.

The stage 2 review has drawn attention to three issues: first, there is a need to reach agreement on enhanced financial freedoms and flexibilities that should be made available to Ordnance Survey; secondly, the provision and location of policy advice to Government on geographic information, currently provided by Ordnance Survey alongside its data supply role, will be reviewed; and thirdly, in the context of a review of Ordnance Survey's Framework Document, we will consider issues surrounding Ordnance Survey's relationship with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

The importance of geographic data to Government has recently been underlined by the pilot agreement to make Ordnance Survey data widely available within central Government to help match the extensive benefit that local government already gains from using such data. Ordnance Survey's work in underpinning Great Britain with geographic information and its successful operation since becoming a Trading Fund in 1999, are clearly worth sustaining in the most appropriate way.

I am satisfied that sustaining Ordnance Survey as a trading fund with some extended freedoms will enable it to continue to develop—and continue to progress its impressive programme of cultural change—to the benefit of all who use its geographic data. Ordnance Survey must be given the right operating framework to enable it to respond to the demands of the geographic information marketplace, which is dependent on the quality, consistency and availability of Ordnance Survey geographic data.

Ordnance Survey must also, quite crucially, be able to play a full part in ensuring geographic information firmly underpins the e-government agenda, and informs policy formulation and delivery of information and services.

I have asked my officials to take forward work as a matter of urgency on the three issues I have referred to, and ensure that the decisions reached are reflected in a new published framework document for Ordnance Survey as soon as possible after the House reconvenes in October, but certainly no later than December 2002.

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