Proposals to change Ordnance Survey from a Trading Fund into a government-owned company [GovCo], which will enable it to introduce more products and services and to grow more quickly, have moved one step closer.
This week Matthew Hancock, minister of state for business, enterprise and energy, made a written ministerial statement to say the government intended the change to take place at the end of this financial year.
He said that company status would enable Ordnance Survey, which publishes a range of folded walking maps and guides, “to function in an increasingly agile and flexible manner to continue to provide the high level of data provision and services to all customers in the UK and abroad, in a cost effective way, open and free where possible”.
A Trading Fund is an executive agency, government department or part of a department, established by a trading fund order under the Government Trading Funds Act 1973. Ordnance Survey falls under the remit of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Other trading funds include the Met Office and Companies House. Government company status will mean Ordnance Survey will be a little more “arms-length” from government, said a spokesman for the organisation. It will have separate legal status, allowing it to operate in a more flexible way. The government said the change would enable it to respond “more effectively, quickly and flexibly, to the needs of the geospatial industry and its wider markets”, and improve its ability to recruit and retain skilled employees, "particularly for digital, mobile and data management skill sets, which are in great demand”. However it will remain 100% in public ownership and accountable to the BIS secretary of state.
The change will come into force on 1st April, after which Ordnance Survey will make plans for its future operation. It is not known yet what new products or services it will offer, but the spokesman said the organisation was keen to work more closely with other groups which use its data.
Sir Rob Margetts, Ordnance Survey non-executive chair, said: “As a government-owned company Ordnance Survey will be better-positioned to maintain its leadership role in our rapidly evolving industry. Our objective is to increase our pace of development by introducing more location-based products, services and solutions to benefit both existing and new customers, partners and markets. For Ordnance Survey to have a long-term sustainable future, we need a conventional business structure, which provides the platform for commercial growth, investments and product development.
“Over the past decade the realisation of the significance of location data by businesses and governments around the globe has grown significantly. Today Ordnance Survey data, services and expertise are being used extensively across the private and public sector to drive efficiencies, underpin decision making and provide valuable insight and intelligence.”
Ordnance Survey was worth £6.6m in bookshop sales in the UK in 2014, according to Nielsen BookScan.