Power of Information Taskforce Beta Report


The awesomely named Power of Information Taskforce has published a beta version of its report for comment. There is a lot to read but for me the overall thrust of the report is summarised by this excerpt from the exec summary:

This report is about improving Digital Britons’ online experience by providing expert help from the public sector online, where people seek it, and by freeing up the UK’s public sector information for innovative new services.  This reports seeks to move into the mainstream activities that are currently minority best practice.
For geofolk the bit that they will want to jump to is the section on Trading Funds which slightly surprisingly to me sits within the section on Reforming Geospatial Data. Well to be honest I am not completely surprised as a major focus of the PoI Taskforce has been the OS (they rightly point to the massive importance of geographic infiormation in the public sector information landscape) but there seems to be little or no mention of other trading funds within this section or elsewhere in the report. Surely the Royal Mail PAF, the DVLA or the Environment Agency are not immune from some recommendations for improved access?
That said the report makes some fairly sensible recommendations which don’t appear to be as dramatic as might have been expected:

It is the Taskforce’s view that the Ordnance Survey requires urgent reform.  Recent announcements of cost reductions at the Ordnance Survey point the way to wider reforms. This reform should include at a minimum:

  • Basic geographic data such as electoral and administrative boundaries, the location of public buildings, etc should be available free of charge to all.
  • There should be simple, free access to general mapping and address data for modest levels of use by any user
  • Voluntary and community organisations pursuing public policy objects should benefit from straightforward standard provisions for ensuring access to geospatial data at all levels of use
  • Licensing conditions should be simplified and standardised across the board and, for all but the heaviest levels of use, should be on standard terms and conditions and should not depend on the intended use or the intended business model of the user.
  • The OpenSpace API, similar to but currently a constrained version of Google Maps, should become the primary delivery point for the Ordnance Survey’s services

There is not a lot to argue with here, although I imagine there will be a lot of tension around the definition of “modest use” and “all but the heaviest levels of use” To achieve some of these recommendations we will also need to see changes to the licensing terms for the PAF without which all postcode based searches require a license, hence my comments about other trading funds. 
The last recommendation on Open Space is certainly going to spark some heated discussion, it will be interesting to see how Google and OSM and their developer communities respond to this one.
Whether these recommendations really require “urgent reform” or some modest reorganisation is debatable. The Trading Funds Review must be nearly ready to publish their proposals, I wonder whether they are having a quick look at the PoI Taskforce Report before going final with their plans for OS et al? 
Remember you can comment on the Taskforce beta report for about another week