Dr Mike J Smith

Plymouth University

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"OS to make mapping freely available"

Thu, 13 Mar 2008

OK, the OS aren't going to be making their mapping freely available anytime soon, but this is a Sun-esque headline (I'm sure Charles Arthur could do better!) that could have been written following the publication "Models of Public Sector Information Provision via Trading Funds" by Newbery, Bently and Pollock. This is a government commissioned report by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and HM Treasury, and is designed to comment upon the societal costs/benefits of providing public sector information via trading funds. At 154 pages its no lightweight read (and they are economists!), but the Executive Summary is as good a place as any to start:

Performing this comparison on the subset of products suitable for analysis, it was found that, in most cases, a marginal cost regime would be welfare improving - that is, the benefits to society of moving to a marginal cost regime outweighed the costs.

In other words their main recommendation is to a adopt a marginal cost charge for PSI. Trading funds such as the OS, UKHO and Met Office do have direct costs and these would need to be met by the Treasury with "performance monitoring ... independent of the charging policy." That is to say, the government shouldn't couple together the cost of the operation with the quality. If they did we would end up in a similar situation to the US where maps are given away free of charge, but due to the miniscule budget, they actually only know where roads, railways and towns are. Everything else remains a bit of a mystery!!!

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