Enough of this AB PAF, I need an OAF

Ab Fab rather than Address Base and Postal Address File. Thanks to https://www.flickr.com/photos/rtppt/

Every politician has their defining moment, it may not be the most important policy/event that they were associated with but it will be one that resonates long after they have retired. For people of my age Margaret Thatcher may well be remembered as ‘Thatcher, Thatcher, the milk snatcher’ rather than the woman who said their was ‘no such thing as society’ or any of her other exploits/achievements (depending on your politics). [Note to self: resist temptation to include offensive picture of MT].


The man who sold our Postal Address File. Thanks to https://www.flickr.com/photos/campaignagainstarmstrade/

Vince Cable may well be remembered as ‘The man who gave away PAF’. Everyone under the sun apart from Royal Mail had been pleading with Vince to exclude the PAF from the flotation of Royal Mail. So not only does he sell RM at about £1bn less than it was worth but he chucks in PAF as well! I wonder which adviser told him that the success of the flotation at a significant discount to market would be imperilled by hanging on to PAF?

In a recent report by the Public Administration Select Committee,  Bernard Jenkin said

“The sale of the PAF with the Royal Mail was a mistake. Public access to public sector data must never be sold or given away again.”

No punch pulling there. The Open Data User Group agreed with PASC and then laid into Royal Mail in their response

“ODUG finds Royal Mail’s statement concerning PAF disingenuous.”

On the cost of producing PAF, ODUG commented

“all feel that the annual £24.5 million of cost Royal Mail allocates to PAF is excessive, unreasonable and unfair. Royal Mail has released no evidence to counter this allegation. By comparison Ordnance Survey’s operational costs for a far larger and more complex set of data sets and products are approximately £105 million per annum.”

And finally they called for a fee to be negotiated for PAF to be Open Data

“we call on Royal Mail to reverse this error by negotiating “fee for service” terms for maintaining and delivering PAF as Open Data”

These address wars have been going on for over a decade now. It is difficult to believe that RM is suddenly going to change its behaviour and embrace open data or offer government a reasonable deal to provide PAF as open data. So it looks like we will be stuck with the duopoly of Royal Mail and Ordnance Survey with their overlapping PAF and AddressBase products and lots of mutual blame shifting between the two of them as to who owns IP in what.

So what, if anything, can we do?

With a crowd of Oaf builders we could build an Open Address File. Thanks to https://www.flickr.com/photos/bunchofpants

If we can’t make PAF open, surely we have the skills and raw data to start building an Open Address File? If we worked smart with the Open Data that is available, added in what we already have in OpenStreetMap and did some smart conflation and interpolation we would be on our way to creating an Open Address File. It would be patchy to start with but once we had a framework we could find ways to fill in the gaps.

I don’t know whether this is a business opportunity or just a bloody minded disruptive play but I am so fed up with this ongoing PAF saga that I am willing to put some time and even a bit of money into building an OAF. Anyone want to join in? If you are interested in helping/participating/investing/playing get in touch through the contact form or leave a comment below.

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