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UK government Geospatial Commission stipulates actions to exploit location data

Report outlines some actions public bodies and companies can take to make better economic use of location data

The government’s Geospatial Commission has published a report indicating some steps to expand the UK’s “geospatial economy”.

A joint statement from the commission and the Cabinet Office said the steps are based on a piece of research carried out by Frontier Economics, an economics research consultancy, into the state of the UK’s location data market.

The Geospatial Commission’s report Enhancing the UK’s geospatial ecosystem makes recommendations in the areas of improving data access, maintaining public trust and driving business adoption.

Location data can be used in sectors such as housing and transport, and for data science in the financial services and marketing sectors, it said.

The report includes case studies about location data usage, the National Underground Asset Register, and a £2m transport location data competition with Innovate UK, aimed at “transport challenges”, including increasing capacity, and “enabling mobility as a service”, based on the concept of renting, not owning, vehicles.

The Geospatial Commission was announced in then chancellor Philip Hammond’s Budget in November 2017. With £40m in government funding, it brought together HM Land Registry, Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority. It sits under the authority of the Cabinet Office.

Earlier this year, the government published a National Geospatial Strategy, emanating from the commission, aimed at capitalising on the UK’s location data.

Economist and broadcaster Andrew Dilnot, chairman of the Geospatial Commission, said in the statement: “Data about location is increasingly valuable to businesses throughout the UK economy, and it is important that the right conditions are in place to support its efficient access, trusted use and swift adoption. The Geospatial Commission has outlined key recommendations and actions, and looks forward to working with key partners across the public sector to ensure that these conditions are enabled.”

Dilnot added: “I am grateful to Frontier Economics for their thoughtful and rigorous analysis of the UK’s geospatial data market, which takes a unique approach to identifying the full impact of geospatial data throughout the UK economy and is the main basis for the Geospatial Commission’s recommendations.”

Read more about the Geospatial Commission

The report puts forward six action points, some of which come under the control of the Geospatial Commission and others under that of other agencies.

The first is that the commission will insist that “data holders consider the public good in decisions about access to location data” in its forthcoming guidelines for measuring the value of location data, and for the “ethical use of location data and technology in both the private and public sector”.

The second action is also on the “public good” theme, recommending that competition regulators should consider the “public good arising from the sharing and reuse of location data”.

The third action is for the Information Commissioner’s Office to “provide further clarity on the distinction between personal and non-personal location data”.

The fourth action is that the Geospatial Commission will launch a “new programme of deliberative public engagement”.

The fifth action has been apportioned to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, which it said “should further incorporate location data capability as an essential component of their programmes for increasing growth, innovation and productivity”.

The final action is that the “government commercial function should embed provisions within appropriate government contracts and spend approvals to require valuable location data, generated either directly or as a by-product of the provision of other goods and services, to be retained and made available for appropriate reuse by the government”.

In his introduction to the report, Dilnot said: “The recommendations in this document should be seen as a starting point for future actions in the ecosystem.”

According to the report, the Geospatial Commission will publish a formal annual update in mid-2021 summarising its progress.

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