HC Deb 20 July 2004 vol 424 cc13-5WS
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Yvette Cooper)

I am pleased to announce today that a new framework document for Ordnance Survey has been published and is also available in the Libraries of both Houses.

On 23 July 2002 the Government announced that following a quinquennial review, Ordnance Survey, a non-ministerial Government Department, should retain its status as a Trading Fund and executive agency. It was also agreed that further work should be undertaken on three issues: freedoms and flexibilities that should be made available to Ordnance Survey; the provision and location of policy advice to government on geographic information; and issues surrounding Ordnance Survey's relationship with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

The new framework document defines the role and responsibilities of, and delegations accorded to, Ordnance Survey. Ordnance Survey's delegations and freedoms are no different from all other trading funds. They have the ability to borrow funds, from the national loans fund, and have recruitment and retention flexibilities available that are consistent with those generally available to agencies acting at arms length from central Government, and operating within a commercial environment. A Treasury Minute was laid before the House setting a new financial target for Ordnance Survey on 15 January 2004.

The Government have considered options for the provision of policy advice on geographic information. They have concluded that it is appropriate that the director general and chief executive of Ordnance Survey should remain as official advisor to Ministers on all aspects of survey, mapping and geographic information, and continue to provide advice to meet specific requests. The Government also separately recognise that there is scope for the creation of a geographic information panel to consider medium and long term strategic and policy issues. A panel would also provide a channel, to complement advice to Ministers provided by the director general, on the wider, more effective and systematic use of geographic information. The panel will be chaired for the first year by the director general and chief executive of Ordnance Survey with the intention of rotating the chair on an annual or biennial basis. Panel members will review the chairmanship annually and put recommendations to Ministers. The terms of reference and membership of the panel will be announced shortly.

Ordnance Survey's relationship, as a non-ministerial government department and an executive agency, with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is set out in the Framework Document. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister acts in the capacity of protecting the Government's shareholding in Ordnance Survey, and as a customer for Ordnance Survey's data. It is important that at both ministerial and official levels, there is proper separation of responsibility between those who deal with the Government's investment in Ordnance Survey, and those taking decisions to purchase Ordnance Survey data. The Minister for Ordnance Survey will therefore play no part in any decisions or discussions relating to such commercially based transactions, primarily through the pan-government agreement for the supply of Ordnance Survey mapping data to Government. Arrangements will also be maintained to ensure that officials within this office are not in a position where they might be considered to hold conflicting responsibilities.

The Government consider that Ordnance Survey has a critically important role to play in ensuring that the UK economy fully benefits from the availability of quality, up-to-date and definitive geographic information databases. Full and effective use of geographic information can generate significant benefits, opportunities and efficiencies for all those who have a requirement within their businesses and operations to use information that can be geographically referenced.

The new framework document will enable Ordnance Survey to continue to develop and enhance their underpinning database, and ensure that products derived from the database are delivered in a manner that meets both customer and national requirements.