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Geospatial Commission announced in Budget to open up OS data

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond announced in his November 2017 budget a £40m Geospatial Commission to open up Ordnance Survey data to stoke new business for small companies

A new Geospatial Commission to open up Ordnance Survey data for small businesses was one of the announcements made by the chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond in his Budget on 22 November.

The commission, which will receive £40m of government funding over the next two years, will “draw together HM Land Registry, the Ordnance Survey, the British Geological Survey, the Valuation Office Agency, the UK Hydrographic Office and the Coal Authority”, and it will sit under the authority of the Cabinet Office.

A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office confirmed to Computer Weekly that the Commission will report jointly to the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, will draw on public and private sector expertise, and be “led by a chair to be announced in due course”.

Its first task, as laid out in a statement from the Cabinet Office and the HM Treasury, will be to work with government and Ordnance Survey to open up OS MasterMap data to UK-based small businesses, and others.

The statement said location data that government produces in the course of delivering public services and maintaining laws and regulations can be used to stimulate innovation in the economy.

It points out that “huge amounts of [what it calls] value have been created by the new services made possible using databases of geospatial information – maps, and the information linked to them such as house prices or business addresses”.

According to the statement, the new commission will improve the links and quality of the data held by the agencies it will bring together.

It will also look at making more geospatial data available “for free and without restriction”, set regulation and policy in relation to geospatial data created by the public sector, hold the individual bodies to account for delivery against the geospatial strategy, and provide strategic oversight and direction across Whitehall.

Tim Berners-Lee – who invented the World Wide Web when he connected documents linked by hypertext to TCP and DNS when working at CERN, in 1989 – hailed the new commission on Twitter.

The Open Data Institute (ODI) has also welcomed the new commission. Nigel Shadbolt, chairman of the ODI, said: “I’m delighted that the UK government is carrying through on the commitment in its [the Conservative Party’s] manifesto to open up UK geospatial data.

“In particular, opening up the OS MasterMap will stimulate growth and investment in the UK economy, generate jobs and improve services. It will make it easier to find land for house-building, and enable the development of services that improve vital infrastructure.”

Jeni Tennison, chief executive of the ODI, said: “This is great progress. Open access to OS Master Map isn’t just useful on its own: it will remove current legal barriers that limit the availability of other data – from the foreign ownership of land to the locations of parking spaces – which is essential to understand and tackle housing and transport challenges.

“It is fantastic to see government committing to give great institutions like Ordnance Survey the support they need to provide data infrastructure fit for the 21st century.”

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The ODI also elaborated in its statement: “Land data is a key part of …  [data] infrastructure, since almost all data is linked to a location. Great institutions such as the Ordnance Survey and Land Registry were founded when the government recognised data’s importance in helping both the public sector and those outside it make better decisions.”

It added that while large companies have always had access to mapping data, the commission will have the effect of opening it up to small businesses and individual citizens.

Damian Green, first secretary of state said, in support of the commission: “The UK leads the way in digital innovation, using it to drive productivity and growth, and deliver the best public services to citizens.

“The UK has some of the best geospatial data in the world, much of it is held by public bodies, and the Geospatial Commission will help Britain to turn this valuable government data into tangible benefits such as new jobs and savings.”

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